On Friday, Nov. 26, the World Health Organization designated Omicron a new COVID-19 variant of concern. With Omicron emerging nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and as many celebrated Thanksgiving, we understand that many have found this news deeply concerning.
We want to share our perspective on this development and reassure you that Omicron is not a cause for panic. Rather, this variant calls upon us to remain thoughtfully prepared.
What we know about the Omicron variant
On Nov. 25, scientists in South Africa announced their detection of the Omicron variant, formally known as B.1.1.529. The variant’s mutations – particularly the more than 30 on the spike protein – suggest that it is as transmissible as the Delta variant of COVID-19, but scientists have yet to verify this.
As of Nov. 29, the Omicron variant has been confirmed in more than a dozen countries across Africa, Asia, Australia and North America. While the United States has yet to detect a case of Omicron, many epidemiologists expect that we will soon have a confirmed case.
Stanford Medicine’s clinical virology laboratory, which has been at the forefront of our local and national pandemic response through testing and variant tracking, continues to monitor the emergence of COVID-19 variants. The lab screens all positive tests that it receives and will detect the Omicron variant should it receive a positive case.
Additionally, Stanford scientists continue with those around the world to conduct research to better understand the severity of the disease caused by this variant as well as what level of protection current COVID-19 vaccines and natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infections provide from the Omicron variant.
Keeping yourself and your community safe
While we have much to learn about Omicron, we should continue to take the steps that have proven to be effective safeguards since the pandemic began. At Stanford, we continue to have strong protocols in place, including vaccination requirements, indoor mask mandates and weekly testing.
Our most important tool is vaccination, which is essential to stopping the development of new variants. We encourage those who are eligible and able to receive a booster to do so. Please know that California has opened booster eligibility to all individuals aged 18 and over in California. You can schedule an appointment for a vaccination or booster at Stanford Health Care or through the California Department of Public Health.
Academic and travel planning
As was shared in a Nov. 8 message, we expect to provide details in early December about our protocols for returning to campus from the upcoming winter break. We intend to provide more information by early next week.
In the meantime, we share this information to assist with your planning:
- We do not expect to change finals schedules for the autumn quarter. Please talk with your instructor if you have any concerns regarding your individual situation.
- We continue to expect in-person instruction for the winter quarter and are not currently contemplating any move to remote instruction.
- If you are planning international travel in the weeks ahead, please be alert to the possibility of continued changes to countries’ travel restrictions.
- If you are an undergraduate and are concerned that your winter break housing plans will be affected by international travel disruptions, please consult with your Resident Director. A list of Resident Directors, by neighborhood, is available on this web page.
At Stanford, we are both a local and an international community, with families, colleagues and connections around the world. Please know that we are carefully watching the development of Omicron – as well as Delta and other variants – and will provide timely guidance to keep our community safe. Thank you in advance for your consideration, cooperation and commitment to supporting our community’s health.
Lloyd B. Minor
Dean, Stanford School of Medicine
Associate Vice Provost
Environmental Health & Safety