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'More infectious but less severe': how the Omicron variant of COVID-19 compares to Delta

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BATON ROUGE - On Monday, the CDC cut the recommended quarantine period for people with COVID in half, from 10 days to five.

A change that reflects the mildness of the Omicron variant and the strain long quarantine times for staff are putting on hospitals and businesses.

"We're having more staffing issues than anything," said Dr. Amy Rabalais, an associate medical director at Ochsner.

She says though hospitalizations from the Omicron variant have gone up in the past week, the real issue they are facing is having infected nurses and doctors out for so long—especially since the infections are not that serious.

Currently, there are 449 people hospitalized in the state. At the peak of Delta, there were more than 3,000.

According to the LDH, eighty percent of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are not fully vaccinated.

"As of right now, it seems to be less severe. More infectious but less severe. I think it's too soon to say exactly how it's going to play out in the U.S. but looking at the early date from South Africa and England, in those countries, the overall burden of disease is less severe per individual."

Omicron symptoms are much more like a cold, whereas symptoms with previous COVID variants did not include runny noses or sneezing and were more severe.

Rabalais explained the variant is much less deadly but more infectious, which is why the case rate is so high right now. However, Rabalais does not see that increase causing any real commotion in terms of returning to restrictions.

"I don't think we will have to go back to the full shut down again, but I certainly think mask-wearing is a good idea."

The increased case count is also leading to an explosion in the need for testing with long lines at centers around the country and at-home tests flying off the shelves. Rabalais says, when doing a test on your own, beware.

"You also have to be cautious in interpretation. There are a lot of false negatives out there. So, a negative test if you're having symptoms is not always perfectly accurate, so I encourage people to go to their doctor."

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