With the COVID-19 Omicron variant gripping the country, a number of false information have spread regarding the strain.
The variant discovered in South Africa has long been dubbed as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization for its highly transmissible nature, but what else should we know to keep ourselves safe?
During the Philippine STAR’s Omicronicles: Separating Facts from Fads livestream discussion, healthcare experts debunk the big misconceptions surrounding Omicron.
“Ventilation is the first line of defense”
With vaccination dubbed as the last line of defense against the coronavirus, wind engineer Joshua Agar discussed the initial interventions that can be done to steer clear of COVID-19.
Agar urged the public that ventilation is an important facet, now that studies show that COVID-19 is capable of airborne transmission: "Yung hangin po yung contaminado and yung hangin yung kailangan i-treat."
"Kailangan properly natin ma-design yung ventilation para properly natin mareduce natin yung risk of transmission."
As for the proper way of utilizing ventilation, Engr. Joshua suggested docks and exhaust pipes for close door establishments such as restaurants and other indoor facilities.
He also urged against the regular use of air conditioning units to prevent the spread at home.
"Yung airconditioning po actually makes things worse," Agar said. "Dahil po airconditioned yung room, tinatanggal natin yung moisture. Mas mabilis po kumalat yung aerosoles na may dalang COVID-19."
Tight-fitting masks such as KF95, N95, and KF94 are also highly suggested whether at home or when going outside: "Mas mahirap i-address yung airborne transmissions dahil in contrast to droplets, pwede siyang dumaan sa loose-fit masks," Agar explained.
“The call for natural ventilation coincides with the call for better air quality," the wind engineer concluded. "Dapat igitin natin ang kampanya para malinis ang ating hangin."
For the second part of the discussion, the Department and Health's Dr. Anna Lisa Ong-Lim and Philippine General Hospital (PGH) Hospital Infection Unit head Dr. Regina Berba went head-to-head on the common Omicron claims plaguing the country.
1. Is it better to catch Omicron?
With the belief that people ought to deliberately catch Omicron in order to up their antibodies against the virus, Dr. Berba says that the mentality is dangerous, and vaccines remain the best line of defense.
“Yun na nga po tianatry natin maiwasan. Kung pwede maprotectahan tayo in a safer manner and that is through vaccines. Kasi if we expose ourselves intentionally para magkaroon tayo ng COVID-19, hindi mo ma-pre-predict response ng katawan mo," she said. "Malay mo ikaw pala yung isa sa making reverse or critical case."
"Kung pwede maiwasan, iwasan."
2. Omicron vs. Delta symptoms
Based on her observation with the PGH cases and from reported literature, Dr. Berba explained that Omicron's symptoms were more prevalant than Delta's.
"Yung Omicron po, totoong mas infectious siya. The incubation period is much shorter at mas maraming na-i-infect at a given time. Para rin siyang flu, not feeling well, headache at lagnat. Lalo na po ang sore throat."
"Mas marami din na-i-infect at any given time."
She added that the symptoms were fairly similar, such as flu-like symptoms, not feeling well, and headaches.
"Pero mas prominent sa Omicron patients, mas prominent po yung sore threat. Marami nagsasabi sobrang kati, masakit yung lalamunan, mahirap lumunok. A little more prominent din yung cough and colds."
She added that with Omicron, one's upper respiratory tract is more prominently affected: "Nandito siya sa taas."
3. The "Flurona" rise
With reports of a flu and coronavirus hybrid being found in a patient in Israel, the doctors press that "co-infections" are nothing new.
"Myth po ang flurona. 'Di po 'yan bago. This is not very unique or rare, at certain points of the year, may flu season po talaga. Kung pwedeng maiwasan kung nagpapabakuna, mas maganda po iyon. Strengthen natin ang annual influenza shots," Berba said.
"May tinatawag pong co-infections. 'Di rin po ito bago," Ong-Lim added. "Kung ano man ang kailangan nating bakuna, dapat updated tayo. Para kung ano man ang dumapo sa atin, kayang kalabanin ng ating katawan."
Ultimately, the doctors concluded that seeing into the end of the pandemic and if there's ever an end to the new variants is like looking into a "crystal ball."
"We hope na last variant but actually medyo cautious po tayo lahat on making forecasts," Berba said.
"While we all pray and hope na makapait na to matapos, wag tayo makapante na its the end at wag tayo masyado malungkot if there is a new one... If there’s one thing this virus has taught us is that it’s full of tricks," Dr. Ong-Lim iterated.
"The lesson to learn is we don’t let our guards down. We need to be smarter than this virus. Bawal makapante kasi yun talaga puwang niya para makapasok and maka-infect ng communities."
As of Jan. 18, the Department of Health has recorded 28,471 new COVID-19 cases, bringing in the country's total caseload to 3,270,758 —with 284,458 active cases and 52,962 deaths.
The health agency has also confirmed that there is local transmission of the Omicron variant in NCR.