Omicron Variant

CT Heath Officials Urge Not to Panic About COVID-19 Omicron Variant

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A new variant of the COVID-19 virus, the Omicron variant, has been detected in a growing list of countries and is leading to travel bans. President Biden said the variant is not a cause for panic, but urged Americans to get fully vaccinated and get a booster shot. LX News breaks down everything you need to know.

There is still a lot to learn about the COVID-19 variant omicron, but officials from Hartford HealthCare are urging people not to panic and said vaccinations and boosters remain the best ways to fight coronavirus.

The World Health Organization on Friday designated omicrom as a “variant of concern,” which is its most serious designation of a COVID-19 variant.

The variant has not been detected in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Manisha Juthani, the state's commissioner of the Department of Public Health said Connecticut has six laboratories currently testing for all variants.

“One thing we need to know, we all need to know is, not to panic. We know what to do. We’ve learned quite a bit in the last two years managing the pandemic, “ Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer of Hartford HealthCare, said Monday.

President Joe Biden sought to quell concerns over the newly identified coronavirus variant omicron, telling Americans, “We’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.”

Dr, Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist and system director, infectious diseases for Hartford HealthCare, said the omicrom variant seems it shares some similarities with beta.

“What we know now is that there are several dozen mutations, probably up to 50 mutations, and then with possibly up to 30 on the spike protein,” he said.

A spike protein can have a say in several factors, including transmissibility, and the proteins could evade the immune system as well as detection, Wu said.

“It is definitely a variant of concern and it is something that we are certainly watching, but we have to remember, there is a variant out there right not that is really doing a number on us and that is delta and so we should be worried about that variant because that is the one that is present,” he added.   

He said there is probably increased transmissibility with the omicrom variant, but the symptoms preliminarily seem to be milder and to be appearing in younger people, as well.

The World Health Organization said it's not yet clear whether the omicron variant is more transmissible compared to other variants, including delta, or whether infection causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants.

The WHO is also working to understand the potential impact of this variant on existing countermeasures, including vaccines, and said they remain critical to reducing severe disease and death.   

While local health officials are waiting on more data about this variant, they too said the best way to fight the virus remains with vaccines and boosters.

Wu warned that variants usually arise out of the transmission of a virus and the more transmission there is, the more likely it will be that variants are going to pop up.

“The only pathway out of this pandemic still remains vaccination, as well as masking, and to a certain extent, social distancing,” Wu said.   

“Masking is still probably one of the most important initiatives for us to communicate, not just to ourselves, but to our loved ones and our community,” Keith Grant, senior system director, infection prevention for Hartford HealthCare, said.

Hartford HealthCare officials said they hope lab data will be available within a week to 10 days, but said clinical data will take longer.

“It is too early to comment specifically about vaccine efficacy or what this omicron can bring. The earlier results coming from South Africa has been somewhat of a mixed bag. It is considered more transmissible than the previous variant but we don’t know the effectiveness of the vaccines at the moment precisely,” Kumar said.

In the small sample size reported out of South Africa, the disease has run a mile course for people who have been vaccinated and have boosters, Wu said.

Hartford HealthCare officials also urged people to get tested for the virus and to wear masks, especially when inside, in certain settings.

When asked about masks, Hartford Healthcare officials said that if you are indoors around people whose status you do not know, wear a mask.