COVID-19 Situational Report: Omicron Variant Update
In three short weeks, the COVID-19 Omicron variant has made its way around the globe with case counts rising in many countries, including Canada. Based on its current trajectory, Omicron is moving quickly to supplant the previously dominant Delta variant, thereby signalling a new phase in the pandemic.
In this interview, Dr. Aaron Burry, Deputy CEO Professional Affairs at the Canadian Dental Association, provides a timely update on the impact of the Omicron variant so far, addressing key questions on transmissibility, the effectiveness of vaccines in combatting the variant, and how Omicron may affect dental practitioners in Canada.
- Over the last week, case counts of the Omicron variant have risen significantly. Early estimates suggest that the Omicron is 5 to 8 times more transmissible than Delta, the previous dominant strain. As a result of its higher rate of transmission, it is thought that Omicron will supplant Delta as the dominant COVID-19 variant.
- Canada is now seeing community spread related to both the Delta and Omicron variants. Younger individuals, university and school-aged children are at the heart of recent transmission in Canada.
- Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, especially for individuals who have received a third dose, appear to prevent serious illness and hospitalization. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines do not appear to be effective in preventing infection (based on laboratory results). Individuals who are fully vaccinated can still become infected with Omicron and transmit the virus to others.
- Based on information available from South Africa and Denmark, symptoms related to Omicron appear to differ from previous COVID-19 variants. Current reports indicate symptoms such as sore throat, nasal congestion, fever, and other cold-like symptoms.
- Due to differences in populations being reported (vaccination levels, age etc.), there is conflicting data on the levels of severe disease, hospitalizations and/or deaths caused by Omicron as compared to previous variants.
IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR DENTISTS
- Public Health is taking a number of precautionary actions. Additional restrictions should be anticipated if case growth continues at the current rate.
- Currently, there are no specific changes related to current infection control practices that affect dental practise. However, there are a variety of public health advisories or measures that may indirectly affect dental practise, such as recommendations to avoid non-essential visits outside the home. If local public health becomes overwhelmed with managing vaccination, testing, and contact tracing, then broader directives for all who come into contact with an individual who tests positive may be imposed, such as self-isolation and testing.
- A third/booster dose of the vaccine appears to offer the best protection for dentists. Most provinces are now offering boosters or third doses and all dentists should avail of the opportunity to receive a booster as soon as they can.
- To date there have been no reports of staff-to-staff transmission on dental office settings in Canada, however there have been reports of staff-to-staff transmission in other work settings where public health measures were in place. The CDA continues to advise dentists to be as vigilant outside the operatory as inside the operatory.
- A number of experts in the media have suggested that the public switch to N95 respirators in place of cloth or surgical masks. Supply pressures and/or price increases are likely if these recommendations result in significant uptake by the general public. CDA recommends that dentists ensure an adequate supply of N95 respirators for themselves and their staff.