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Dr Stuart Weiss: COVID-19 Omicron Update Tuesday 11-30-21

From Dr. Stuart Weiss, Intelligent Crowd Solutions – Rapid Test Center of NY


The Omicron variant (named after the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet, after 13 previous variants of interest or concern and skipping the letters Nu and Xi) erupted onto the scene 5 days ago but it has probably been spreading quietly in South Africa over the last 6-8 weeks. It probably started in a very sick person with immune deficiency which led to a prolonged infection and allowed the virus to develop the over 50 different mutations that are seen in this variant. Some mutations have been seen before and are related to evading immune response and some mutations are new. Over 30 of the mutations are in the spike protein which would alter the way the virus looks to our immune system and how it enters our cells.


This variant seems to be highly transmissible. In South Africa, coronavirus cases went from about 300 per day two weeks ago to 3000 per day now.

Disease Severity

Early data from South Africa suggesting that the new variant only causes mild disease should be looked at with skepticism. There isn’t enough data yet however, hospitalizations in the epicenter of omicron in the South African province of Gauteng have been rising rapidly. The rates have doubled over the past month. Toddlers make up about 10% of the hospital admissions.

Breakthrough Infections in vaccinated people

Its still too early to know if this variant will reinfect previously infected people. This is being studied now and we should have a better idea in 1-2 weeks.

Vaccine Effectiveness

Its still too early to know. Both Pfizer and Moderna are racing to determine the continued effectiveness of their vaccines. It will probably take another week and a half until we know this answer. If vaccines need to be modified, that will take about three months to accomplish. Scientists who have studied the mutations are confident that the vaccines will continue to prevent severe illness. 85% of the hospitalizations in Gauteng are in unvaccinated people. In Israel, two fully vaccinated and boosted physicians became infected with Omicron after one returned from a conference in London, and are only having mild illness.

Testing Effectiveness

Yesterday (Nov 29), ThermoFischer announced that their PCR testing system (Taqpath, used by many labs around the world) is detecting the omicron variant. This test looks for three different gene targets on the virus from the orf1a/b, S and N regions of the virus. The spike gene target (S gene) is impacted and is not detected in omicron samples but the other two targets still work so the test comes out positive still. Other PCR assays need to be looked at still. Antigen tests usually look at N proteins (nucleocapsid) and should be okay but this is not true for all antigen tests. This should be looked at if you use an antigen test.

Spread globally

Although countries have closed their borders, it will be mostly impossible to stop the spread of the new variant. It has been detected on all continents except Antarctica so far. This is because it most likely has already been spreading for weeks. Also, due to lax travel rules enforcement, passengers on flights from South Africa last week with cases of Omicron onboard were allowed to fly home if they tested negative in the airport. These negative passengers could have easily been incubating the virus and would become infectious once at home.


Travel bans are quickly changing based more on political will rather than science. Today, the WHO advised people 60 and older who are not vaccinated to postpone travel. The C.D.C. in the United States announced that it is working on more stringent rules for people traveling to the US. It may require a negative CoViD-19 test within 24 hours of departure instead of 72 hours.

European Union states have agreed to introduce temporary restrictions on all travel intothe EU from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe due to Omicron.

Due to the changing travel restrictions and unknowns about the new variant, companies should consider temporarily limiting business travel to essential travel only.
We will keep you informed as information changes.

Dr. Stu Weiss

Testing Options

We now offer several testing options for clients who need people tested:Lab based PCR test with a 12 hour resultRapid PCR with a 1-4 hours resultAntigen with a 15 minute resultWe can do testing at our facilities or at your location. Email us if you need testing at your holiday party, company office or special event. Email: [email protected]

Fun Facts

iCrowd has helped the most iconic events happen in NYC this fall.

1. New York City Marathon – the largest marathon in the world needed CoViD compliance and CoViD-19 testing
2. The Thanksgiving Parade needed 175,000 people vaccine verified and cast, crew and talent tested to create the safest parade ever
3. Time Square New Years Eve celebration needs CoViD expertise, compliance and testing


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