The AAA predicted that at least 34 million Americans would travel during Thanksgiving. Although the number is lower than the pre-pandemic levels, it was also significantly higher than in 2020.
That’s not all. After about two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, children are going back to school, businesses are opening, and millions more are returning to work.
All these then leave us to one pressing question: will the new variant called Omicron bring everyone back to lockdown? Will it affect businesses?
What Is the Omicron Variant?
The COVID-19 pandemic was tragic for thousands of businesses across the country. The percentage of closures reached 8.5 percent in the first year alone. About 15,000 small companies shut down in places like Los Angeles, and half might not come back.
So the easing of restrictions and the drop in the COVID-19 cases were essential factors to help small businesses reset or thrive again. But this sector could potentially face another challenge with the Omicron variant.
What is the Omicron variant? Also called B.1.1529, it is a COVID-19 variant first detected in South Africa. The WHO categorized it as a variant of concern, requiring closer monitoring, extensive study, and quick response.
Based on WHO’s Technical Advisory Group, this variant, first reported in November 2021, contained many virus mutations. In particular, it’s supposed to have 50 mutations on the spike protein and around 20 on the ACE2 receptors.
To break these terms down, a spike protein is one of the many proteins that cover and protect a virus’s capsid or shell. This layer is considered the most important in wrapping up all the viral contents, such as DNA strands and enzymes. Mutations could cause changes in how it interacts with cells, making treatment hard to come by.
Meanwhile, ACE2 receptors are usually found in the pulmonary alveoli and encode proteins that can bind to cells in the body. Their role is to signal for specific immune responses, such as inflammation and mucus production.
More mutations mean that:
- The Omicron variant could be more transmissible or infectious than the previous variants, especially Delta, the primary variant globally.
- It could cause more severe symptoms.
- The COVID-19 vaccines today might not prevent this disease, might not work at all, or might only be slightly effective.
With South Africa, the WHO report further shared that the country experienced three significant peaks in its reported cases. However, the cases rose steeply at the time when the new variant was detected.
What Can Businesses Do Now
So far, some countries have reported the variant. These included the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, Botswana, Germany, and Italy. The United States has not reported a case yet, although it restricted travel from South African countries. So did other nations, such as the European Union.
Until then, it’s still a wait-and-see, and it may still take a few weeks before everyone receives a clearer picture of how threatening this virus is. In the meantime, businesses can continue to follow protocol to limit COVID-19 exposure and spread in the workplace:
- Keep the Office Clean at All Times: Some companies that offer house cleaning can also provide commercial cleaning. These professionals disinfect high-contact surfaces such as clean desks, keyboards, phones, and tabletops. They also sanitize door jambs, railings on escalators or stairs.
- Always Practice Proper Hand Hygiene: This is crucial to prevent the spread of germs that could cause sicknesses, including the COVID-19 virus. Washing with soap, for example, can damage the spike proteins of the virus to prevent it from sticking into the receptors of the lungs.
- Prepare a Disaster Plan: Create a plan that will focus on a workplace setup if the situation gets worse. Will everyone go back to remote work? If you’re a restaurant or a hotel, what are your potential revenue streams if customers can’t come? How will you cover lost income? It helps to know this now, not in the middle of an outbreak or when everyone is sick. Make one using these tips.
- Encourage Employees to Isolate if They Are Sick: Encourage employees to stay home and isolate themselves if they feel sick, even with a bit of cough or cold. This virus can take hold of their lungs quickly.
Because this is a new variant, no one knows the outcome. Businesses can take the lessons of the past few years to better prepare for it. Remember that COVID-19 is a virus. And with viruses, all it takes are just one patient, one careless hygiene practice, or one stray drop of contaminated fluid to start the whole thing off again.