There have been several significant developments in the global health crisis recently.
At the end of 2021, scientists and health professionals began researching the emerging Omicron coronavirus variant and infection rates have continued to grow over the months. But, what exactly is it? And what could it mean for your Disney World trip? Let’s take a look.
Origins of the Omicron Variant
The Omicron variant is a mutation of the coronavirus that was first discovered in South Africa. There are currently more than 145 nations around the world with confirmed Omicron cases including those in the U.S., Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America, per The New York Times.
According to CNN, the United States has seen confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in all 50 states at this point and measures are being taken to limit the spread of the variant. On December 7th, 2021, Spectrum News 13 reported that Florida had reported its first cases of Omicron.
Of course, there are still a lot of questions about the Omicron variant. The World Health Organization has defined it as a variant of concern, and has become the dominant variant in several countries (including the U.S.). The WHO has also explained that the main symptoms of the omicron variant include cough, sore throat, and fever.
Additionally, studies have shown that “individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 are 3 to 5 times more likely to be reinfected with Omicron compared to Delta.”
Concerns about the Omicron Variant
So, with little conclusive information, what makes the Omicron variant so concerning? CBS explains that health authorities find that Omicron carries a unique set of mutations that “might give the virus an advantage in driving new surges of infections compared with the fast-spreading Delta variant.”
Beyond that, scientists have been working since the variant was first detected to determine if vaccines could be less effective and that the above-mentioned risk of reinfection may be higher.
These studies have found that the two dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offer “considerable protection” against Omicron and more preliminary evidence is suggesting that the third Pfizer or Moderna shot (also known as the booster shot) can offer “a sufficient boost of protection” as reported by CBS News.
At this time, a lot of research is currently ongoing to answer more questions we have about the Omicron variant. The WHO has noted that there are a large number of studies around the world looking into transmissibility, the severity of infection (including symptoms), the performance of vaccines and diagnostic tests, and the effectiveness of treatments.
According to a video released by the WHO on December 17th, 2021, people who get Omicron “can have the full spectrum of disease, everything from asymptomatic infection, mild infection, people needing hospitalization, and people have died from Omicron.”
Similarly, vaccine companies are currently undergoing additional tests to make sure that the vaccines are effective against the Omicron variant. CBS has noted that these companies are prepared to change their vaccines if needed. In January of 2022, CNBC reported that Pfizer was launching a clinical trial for a vaccine targeting Omicron.
Travel Restrictions in Response to the Omicron Variant
So far, several travel restrictions have been imposed in response to the Omicron variant. The U.S. initially closed its borders to select southern African countries, according to Al Jazeera, and is requiring COVID tests one day prior to travel for all people flying into the United States, regardless of vaccination status.
Update: On December 28th, 2021, the White House issued a proclamation revoking the previous proclamation that created the travel bans to those select southern African countries. The previous travel bans applied to the Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, the Republic of South Africa, and the Republic of Zimbabwe. The travel bans applicable to these countries will lift on December 31st, 2021 at 12:01AM ET.
The update regarding required COVID-19 tests 1 day prior to travel, however, continues to be in effect.
Other countries around the world have also enacted partial or complete border closures. Additionally, the WHO has also advised that certain at-risk individuals postpone travel in response to the variant.
Health Recommendations in Response to the Omicron Variant
In response to the new variant, many health organizations have reiterated recommendations that have been in place for the duration of the COVID pandemic.
The CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, wash their hands frequently, distance themselves from others, and get vaccinated. Remember, a booster is now recommended as well for those who are eligible. The WHO has similar recommendations.
Disney World’s countries, Orange and Osceola counties in Florida, are both currently classed as high-transmission areas. So, at this time, the CDC does have an explicit recommendation to wear a mask in public, indoor settings.
In addition to recommendations on mask-wearing, hand washing, and vaccinations, the U.S. government has been implementing several measures to make testing and protection more accessible to Americans.
As of January 19th, 2022, each household can order 4 COVID-19 at-home testing kits for free. Additionally, private insurance companies will now cover certain costs associated with COVID-19 tests up to a specific amount per month, according to CNBC.
Disney World’s Potential Changes
So, could the Omicron variant affect Disney World directly? Maybe. We did not see many changes to health policy in the parks in response to the Delta variant, but Omicron could be a different scenario (though thus far, this has not been the case).
Disney did reinstate the mask mandate last summer and recently paused the sale of most annual passes to handle capacity. So, changes could be made and are typically made in response to changes in CDC guidelines.
If the CDC opts to tighten recommendations in response to the Omicron variant, Disney may do the same. Still, reclosures seem unlikely. Disney has continued to announce openings during the Delta and Omicron variants.
It’s more likely that we’ll see mask mandate changes or perhaps capacity regulations. Of course, you can keep an eye on AllEars to make sure you don’t miss any of the potential changes.