How Dangerous Is the Omicron Variant for Seniors?

Carol and her husband, Scott, are considering visiting their friends in Florida for Christmas. They are thinking about driving to save money on airfare. They were all ready to go but are deciding whether to change their plans because of the emergence of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

What the World Health Organization (WHO) Has to Say

WHO is advising individuals who are 60 years of age and older — including those who are vaccinated — as well as those with compromised immune systems — to postpone upcoming holiday travel plans amid the spread of the new omicron coronavirus variant.

According to a recent announcement from WHO, the omicron variant has been designated as a “variant of concern due to preliminary evidence that it has numerous mutations and could increase the risk for reinfection.” However, scientists are still trying to learn about the new COVID variant — including how transmissible it is, how well current vaccines work against it, and where its biggest hotspots are. Many of those answers won’t be known for at least a couple weeks, just in time for Christmas.

Here’s what we know about the omicron variant at this time:

So far, the omicron variant has been detected in 38 countries as of Friday morning, including Italy, the U.K., France, Portugal, and Mexico. In the United States, as of Dec 5, at least 16 U.S. states have reported omicron cases: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin, according to Reuters.

  • Domestic travel protocols in the U.S. remain largely unchanged for now. If you’re traveling out of the country, you’ll now need to test negative within the 24 hours before you return, regardless of your vaccination status.
  • Some countries — including Japan, Israel, and Morocco — have temporarily barred all foreigners from entering, due to omicron.
  • If you’re vaccinated and gathering with other vaccinated people, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a briefing that it is safe to attend a gathering. Ideally, every guest should be boosted, too.
  • Fauci and other medical experts strongly emphasize that Americans should continue to get vaccinated and get their booster shots. The vaccine has been proven to reduce the risk of severe illness and death, and Fauci said it is reasonable to believe it will offer protection against the omicron variant.

President Biden Announces New Actions for Seniors to Combat Omicron

Last week, President Biden announced new actions to combat COVID-19 as the United States heads into the winter months with the emergence of the new variant. The following are the senior-specific actions he plans on taking, many of which are in partnership with AARP:

  • Collaborating with AARP on an education campaign focused on getting seniors boosted: AARP has been engaged in a robust education effort around COVID-19 and primary vaccinations throughout the pandemic. As we shift toward getting more seniors boosted, AARP will build on these efforts, and in collaboration with the administration, will serve seniors through:
    • Town Halls: The administration will participate in AARP-sponsored tele-town halls to reach thousands of seniors over the coming months and educate older Americans about the importance of boosters.
    • Rides to Booster Shots: AARP has committed to delivering rides through volunteers and partnerships with other organizations to help seniors get boosted at local pharmacies, clinics, events, churches, or other trusted locations.
    • Events and Call Center: AARP and the administration will participate in local events and media opportunities across the country in the weeks ahead. In addition, the administration has provided new training to help CDC’s National COVID-19 Vaccine Assistance hotline answer AARP members’ and all seniors’ questions about boosters or find an appointment at 1-800-232-0233.
  • Targeting outreach to Medicare beneficiaries: As part of a plan to get older adults the extra protection they need through a booster, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is launching an education and outreach initiative to get Medicare beneficiaries boosted. This will include:
    • sending a notice from the CMS Administrator to all Medicare beneficiaries encouraging them to get boosted and providing information about how to easily access a booster shot in their community. Approximately 63 million people are enrolled in Medicare, and this is the first time in more than four years that Medicare has sent all Medicare beneficiaries a notice of this kind.
    • CMS will also send emails, add messages to the 1-800-MEDICARE call center, and incorporate messaging into advertising campaigns highly targeted to high-risk audiences with lower booster uptake.

Please Get Your Vaccines and Booster Shots

Currently, only 42 percent of eligible American seniors have received their third COVID vaccine dose, leaving many older adults at risk, according to the SCAN Foundation. Getting your vaccine and booster shots is the single best way to protect against omicron. According to the WHO, the variant contains mutations that could potentially enable it to evade the protection you got from your first round of COVID vaccinations. But the booster shot increases your antibodies levels enough to provide some protection against all COVID variants, including omicron.

Vaccine and booster doses also prompt your body to generate T cells, which can target and destroy cells infected with a virus. So, if you still test positive for COVID, you’re much less likely to get severely sick.

Additionally, consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings, physically distancing yourself from others, and staying vigilant for any COVID signs and symptoms during any periods of upcoming travel.

Take Care of Yourself, and Plan for Long-term Care

With the new omicron variant, we urge you to take precautions this holiday season, and take care of yourself and your family!

Do you have a loved one who will need nursing home care in the not-so-distant future or who is currently in a nursing home? When it comes to planning for long-term care, Medicaid Asset Protection Planning can be started while your loved one is still able to make legal and financial decisions or can be initiated by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if your loved one is already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care. In fact, the majority of our Lifecare Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning clients come to us when nursing home care is already in place or is imminent.

Generally, the earlier someone plans for long-term care needs, the better. But, fortunately, it is never too late to begin your planning. To afford the catastrophic costs of long-term care without depleting all of your loved one’s hard-earned assets, you should begin your Long-Term Care Planning as soon as possible. You should also do Incapacity Planning and Estate Planning, if you haven’t done so already. Please call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Care Fairfax: 703-691-1888

Elder Care Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435

Elder Care Rockville: 301-519-8041

Elder Care DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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