Local health officials weigh in on Omicron variant

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 5:40 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2021 at 7:12 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - Health officials are keeping an eye on a new COVID-19 variant that’s making its way towards the United States.

The Omicron variant was discovered Thursday in South Africa.

“It’s not something that’s really surprised us. It’s just one of the next steps that we have in fighting this pandemic,” said Dr. Andrew Lundquist, Chief Medical Officer at Mankato Clinic.

The World Health Organization has since designated it as a variant of concern.

Studies are underway to learn more about its transmissibility and severity, but as of now, much remains unknown.

“The early data ― this is really early ― suggests that it may be two to six times more transmissible than Delta. Well, does that necessarily mean that it’s more virulent? Does it have more ability to cause disease? We don’t know,” explained Dr. Gregory Poland, an Infectious Disease Specialist at Mayo Clinic.

It’s unclear how Omicron compares to other COVID-19 variants like Delta, but WHO said researchers will know more in the coming weeks.

Lundquist added, “We know that it’s kind of a cousin of the Alpha and the Delta strain, so we know that is has mutations of the spike protein which make it a little different than both of those variants.”

Preliminary evidence suggests Omicron could more easily re-infect people who’ve previously had COVID-19.

It’s already been found in several African and European countries where case counts and hospitalization rates are rising.

It has yet to be detected in the United States, but two cases were recently confirmed close to home in Ontario, Canada.

“The big thing right now is really to not panic. We knew there was going to be another variant, and there will most likely be other variants going forward. This is a virus that is going to be with us most likely for a very long time,” Lundquist stated.

For now, health officials said people should continue taking COVID-19 precautions.

Poland added, “My personal feeling is to treat this like a fire alarm. We see some smoke, but we don’t yet know how big the fire’s gonna be, but it’s a reminder. It’s a warning, particularly during the holidays.”

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