Since its first detection, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been reported in numerous countries worldwide and in most of the United States. It is likely more transmissible than the other variants of COVID-19 and has officially surpassed the Delta variant contraction rates. As of December 25, 2021, the CDC reported the Omicron variant represents almost 60% of the reported cases of COVID-19 as compared to the Delta variant’s roughly 40% of cases. Today alone, the US reported a record of 282,000 new diagnosed cases.

On December 28, 2021, the FDA announced its observations from a preliminary study of the Omicron variant related to testing and detection. The FDA has been working with the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) RADx program to study the Omicron variant and how to best track whether a person has contracted it. The study indicated that antigen diagnostic tests are effective for virus detection but may have reduced sensitivity. Specifically, the antigen tests “are less likely to pick up very early infections compared to molecular tests.”

According to some news outlets, the Omicron variant has particularly affected children. ABC reported a “five-fold increase in pediatric admission in New York City” in December and “[c]lose to double the numbers admitted in Washington, D.C.” Likewise, ABC reported that about 260 children in the United States are being admitted to hospitals each data, “and nearly 2,000 children are currently hospitalized with the virus.” UPI reported similar findings, explaining that child hospitalizations are up 30% in the last week as the Omicron variant continues to spread.

Notwithstanding these statistics, the CDC updated its guidelines for quarantining and recommends a shortened time for isolation for the public: “People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter.” According to the CDC, this condensed timeframe for recommended isolation is due to studies indicating transmission occurs early in the course of the illness.  CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated, “Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather.”

Norton Rose Fulbright lawyers will continue to provide relevant updates for healthcare providers on the Health Law Pulse during the COVID-19 public health crisis.