The Omicron Variant and Its Impact on Nursing Students and Health Care Workers
By Maria Shearing, BSN, RN, PHN
Throughout the era of the coronavirus pandemic, variants have continued to emerge, as the SARS-COV-2 continues to mutate and evolve. In November 2021, a new variant of the coronavirus emerged. The World Health Organization (WHO) named the variant omicron, which was later termed as “a variant of concern (VOC)” (He et al., 2021). According to Goga et al. (2021), omicron significantly infects a larger number of healthcare workers (HCW) aged between 18 and 30 years, compared to those aged 55 years and above. As a student nurse in the Master’s program (MSC), one should adhere to the measures undertaken by the institution to mitigate the risk of the omicron variant.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (2021) have created uncertainty by shortening the time that individuals should be isolated from the public, as those who have been tested positive for COVID-19 should now keep away from the public for five days. Also, those who are asymptomatic or with resolving symptoms should continue wearing masks for another five days when in public to minimize the risks of infecting other people with the variant. The directives have been motivated by the scientific discovery that most SARS-COV-2 transmission happens in the early stages of the illness, that is, around 1-2 days before the symptoms emerge, and 2-3 days after the emergence of symptoms.
The directives by the CDC will benefit students who have tested positive for omicron, as well as those who want to do practicum experience as healthcare workers (HCWs) in various hospitals and clinics. Both students and staff members of the American University of Health Sciences (AUHS) have been encouraged to go for testing within the institution, as a way of keeping the omicron variant outside the institution. Planning for taking the test, choosing a testing site at a convenient place, and making the process fast, can encourage people to take the test (Anthes, 2021). Our institution’s leadership has scheduled and offered free testing onsite to encourage students to be tested for the variant to follow the guidelines imposed by the CDC and, most importantly, to keep everyone safe. Those who are found positive, both students and staff, should follow the guidelines, isolate, and retest after the fifth day, as well as wear an appropriate and well-fitting mask and then return to campus when asymptomatic.
There is a lot that the world has yet to learn about omicron, but students should protect themselves from the variant by wearing high-quality masks, including those rated FFP2 and FFP3, as they are considered more protective compared to cloth masks. Several vaccines, which include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, including boosters, have been approved by WHO to mitigate the risk of contracting the variant (Shekhar et al., 2021). In addition, hand-washing and social distancing are other responsibilities for preventing the variant.