Once again, December is chugging along with Covid cases ticking upwards across the country.
A handful of my friends are currently sick with Delta, and many more are stuck in quarantine from an exposure. Omicron is all over the news and it now seems almost certain that this variant is both more contagious and better at evading existing immunity than any strain we’ve seen thus far.
It’s easy to despair, or if you’re prone to anxiety like I am, spin out with worries about the future. For me, focusing on the facts and taking action to the degree that I am able helps calm me down.
I hope this post may make you feel a little saner! Let’s get to it.
What does a “more contagious” variant mean in terms of our day-to-day?
Every time a variant comes along that is “more contagious,” I struggle to understand what that means, and how we should adjust our behavior to reduce our risk of contracting Covid. Do I need to wash my hands even MORE? Can I now get or spread Covid even if I am six feet away from the nearest person?
According to my mother-in-law, Dr. Sixsmith, MD, and my husband (a molecular embryologist who understands immunology), Omicron—and Delta, for that matter—being “more transmissible” doesn’t mean that masks/distancing/hand-washing no longer work as mitigation strategies.
Both doctors said the six feet rule should still hold true—a more contagious virus can’t suddenly float two blocks away and infect someone. I asked my husband about the possibility of Omicron hanging around in the air or on surfaces for longer, and he said: “I wouldn’t anticipate that the point mutations in the spike protein would affect the ability of the virus to survive outside of a host.”
Both Dr. Sixsmith and Dr. James did say it probably takes a smaller viral load to lead to infection, so the old 15-minute rule may not apply with Omicron—you can probably get a disease-causing dose of viral particles in less time than that. Dr. Sixsmith also suggested making sure masks are very well-fitted (or double-masking) since it may take fewer viral particles getting in through the gaps to make you sick.
Hand sanitizers will still kill the newer variants, so there is no need to change anything with this habit.
What about Omicron’s severity?
Perhaps the best news so far about Omicron is that it really seems like it’s less severe than the other versions of Covid we’ve been dealing with for two years. I know we can’t be sure of this yet, but I’m reading everything I can find, and signs are sure pointing that way.
Am I the only one who keeps thinking there could be a huge silver lining to the emergence of this variant? If Omicron proves to be the fittest Covid strain in circulation, it could overtake Delta—and if it also causes milder disease, then even with some immune system evasion, aren’t we all better off? I don’t know who I am and what I did with the normal doom-and-gloom Maia, but I’m feeling weirdly optimistic that this may come to pass. (Knocks wood repeatedly and does the “pu pu pu” spitting thing despite not being Jewish.)
In any case, whether you’re worried about Omicron, Delta, or just getting a cold, here is what I’m doing with the hopes of keeping Covid and other viruses away this winter:
1) We take a few supplements.
I’m not a huge vitamin person, but the winter is a time when I add some to our routine, including elderberry syrup or an elderberry gummy, vitamin D, and a probiotic. I drizzle Olea True high-phenol olive oil on as many meals as I can. When we do get colds, I focus on the remedies that really work to make us feel better.
2) We are all vaccinated against Covid.
3) We wash hands, use sanitizer, and wipe down high-touch surfaces with non-toxic antiseptics.
If you need help finding an effective, toxin-free hand sanitizer, we’ve got a Guide for that. If you’re worried about the toxic antimicrobial products your kids are exposed to due to “enhanced cleaning protocols” in school, you might ask them to consider using this.
4) We (try to) keep stress levels low.
This is easier said than done amidst our second pandemic holiday season. Nevertheless, I try to prioritize sleep, fitness, and self-care to keep my stress levels lower. You might also consider this THC-free gummy.
5) We (try to) keep our diet healthful(ish).
It’s an ongoing battle, and we often slip into a takeout habit, but this time of year I try to balance the inevitable holiday junk with at least one nutrient-rich meal or even snack a day. This can be in the form of kale chips (not always homemade), sauerkraut, or smoothies when I am pressed for time. I’ve also made getting healthful meals into myself easier by relying on Sakara and Provenance, and for family dinners with Sun Basket. Finally, I have cut back on alcohol (I’m averaging about 3 or 4 drinks a week which is easily half of my norm), and basically only drink this.
6) We run our air filter.
We have three Austin air filters in our home. These use true medical grade HEPA that removes 95% of all particles larger than 0.1 microns (the coronavirus that causes Covid is .125 microns). In addition, breathing cleaner air will keep our lungs in better shape when fighting any kind of respiratory infection.
7) We are still distancing (sort of), masking indoors (mostly), and taking Covid tests (often).
While our daily routine now much more closely resembles our pre-pandemic life (I attend in-person fitness classes, we indoor dine, etc), this is largely due to our like-minded community. Here in New York City, vaccination is required to enter restaurants, gyms, Broadway shows, and more, and I noted today that there wasn’t a single unmasked person in my neighborhood’s crowded Trader Joe’s.
We took rapid Covid tests before Thanksgiving, and will do so again before a Christmas party this weekend. We keep indoor gatherings small, and when my mom is around we still tend to keep most things outdoors (above, a photo she took of me this weekend when we were out to dinner).
My brother lives in Pennsylvania, and when I recently visited him I was aware of how much less comfortable I felt in a place where people are largely unmasked and vaccines mandates are nonexistent.
Despite all of the above strategies, I often feel like catching Covid is inevitable. One by one, it seems to be getting to everyone I know. My hope is that by being vaccinated and otherwise fairly healthy, we will be only mildly ill if/when our turn comes!
I would love to know your thoughts on Omicron and winter wellness in general; please comment below.