At a Christmas Eve COVID-19 briefing, BC’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, detailed how Omicron is different from other variants.
She also explained how reinfection is “much more likely” for those who have had infections, as are COVID-19 breakthrough cases.
Henry said that if you have any symptoms, even if they’re minor cold-like symptoms, assume that you have Omicron.
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Much like with other COVID-19 variants since vaccines became widely available in the province, people who are unvaccinated carry a higher risk of contracting the Omicron variant.
Henry suggested that if you are fully vaccinated and have mild symptoms, do not get a COVID-19 test, but rather stay home for seven days, and if you’re unvaccinated, stay home for 10 days.
The bad news
Omicron is more infectious than any other variant that we’ve seen so far, and BC is currently experiencing a record number of daily COVID-19 cases.
Henry suggested that if you have any symptoms over the holidays, stay away from those close to you, even if you suspect it’s just a cold.
“Anyone with someone in their social network who recently tested positive, or who is awaiting test results, or is at home with symptoms, you should consider yourself a contact of Omicron. Don’t go to group gatherings and particularly don’t go to gatherings where you’ll be with people who have risk factors for severe illness.”
She also said that if you have symptoms, you should isolate yourself from people in your own household and from anyone who may be visiting.
Henry added that the uncertainty around this latest variant remains, remarking on the fact that closures of fitness centres have impacted people’s mental health. She went on to say that they would be reopened “when we know more.”
The rate of transmission is so high that contact tracing cannot keep up, according to Henry, who also confirmed that COVID-19 is “absolutely” transmitted through the air.
The good news
For now, there are no additional health measures or restrictions being put in place.
One silver lining during the briefing was when Henry referred to a study out of Scotland that indicates “in many cases, [Omicron] is a milder illness in most people, so that is hopeful news. We don’t yet know that for our context here in BC, but I also am very hopeful.”
While there have been some murmurs about how Omicron is less severe, this is the first time Henry has seemed to confirm the suggestion. Similarly, while breakthrough infections might be more prevalent, they also tend to be less severe.
BC’s provincial health officer encouraged British Columbians to continue to have the connections that are crucial for mental health, suggesting people still go outside, go for a run, and have virtual gatherings with loved ones.
Earlier this week, Henry suggested that everyone would eventually get Omicron. Today she said that doesn’t mean everyone will get sick.
She also urged those in BC to continue “being kind, being calm, and being safe.”