Experts at Ochsner Health say the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, is not on our soil, but it will eventually enter our communities.
“In Louisiana, we have not seen the Omicron variant,” said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, Medical Director of Infection Control and Prevention with the health system. “Not in Louisiana and nor in the United States yet. But it is close by, and we know it’s a matter of time.”
The World Health Organization says the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is a “variant of concern," meaning experts are keeping a close eye on it.
They are looking at data from countries where the variant has been found to see what the next steps will be.
“It’s still pretty early in the game to know how transmissible or severe the variant is, although there’s some information from South Africa even today that their rates of positivity of this variant have risen,” said Dr. Baumgarten. “So, it seems to be highly transmissible.”
Experts say within the next few weeks, they should have answers for questions like who this variant will impact more and how severe the symptoms might be for those infected.
A current concern is the large mutation of the virus. The Delta variant had nine mutations on the spike protein. The Omicron variant has 32.
“We’ll still need a lot more time and experiments what all of those mutations translate to in the real world,” said Dr. Amy Feehan, Clinical Research Scientist with the system.
But for now, scientists are confident the variant is not in the United States by doing what’s called surveillance sequencing.
“We’re going to be able to tell pretty quickly when Omicron does arrive,” added Dr. Feehan.
They’re also sure because scientists all over the world, including here, are uploading all their findings onto an online platform.
“We’ve been doing that in an ongoing way since April 2020,” said Dr. Feehan. “We have sequences already that all banked in this public repository, and that’s how this lineage was first identified. Those authors uploaded those sequences to the database and were able to compare it. Sequencing gives you like a family tree of the virus.”
With the holidays around the corner, experts say to continue following the procedures from the past two years – and not panic.
“What we want is for the public to be prepared,” said Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, System Medical Director of Hospital Quality with the system. “There's things that we’ve been doing and saying for the past two years that we know that work. Such as wearing masks, social distance, washing your hands, staying home when you're sick, none of those measures have changed.”
Experts say tests to see how well vaccines hold up against this variant of the virus are already taken place.
Still, they're encouraging those who are eligible to start the vaccine process, and if you’re already vaccinated, get a booster shot ahead of the arrival of the Omicron variant to our communities.
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