Officials say more information is needed on new COVID-19 variant
As the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus continues to be studied, it will be a matter of weeks before some key questions are answered, according to Nevada County Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Kellermann.
California on Wednesday recorded the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the United States, according to the Associated Press.
Kellermann said in a Q&A Wednesday that a variant of the virus can warrant concern due to any of three factors — being more transmissible, more virulent, or less responsive to existing treatments — but that more information on whether the Omicron variant has these characteristics will be “forthcoming in the next couple of weeks.”
Discussing the variant, Nevada County Director of Health and Human Services Ryan Gruver emphasized that there are “a lot of unknowns at this point” surrounding the variant, including whether it will be transmissible enough to stick around and whether existing vaccines and treatments will be effective against it.
“Those things will require more data and more science,” he said. “My understanding … is that it should be some weeks before we have science on that, which is actually remarkably fast, so it shouldn’t take too long before we have those answers.”
The state Department of Public Health tracks variants of concern, providing an update each month with the percentage of specimens sequenced that are among a list of monitored variants. As of November, according to the state list, over 90% of sequenced specimens were the Delta variant during each of the last five months, with the proportion rising to 99.7% in November.
Regardless of a new variant, said Kellermann, Nevada County still has “a lot of viral transmission.” As of Wednesday, according to the state dashboard tracking COVID-19, the county had a seven-day average of 15.9 daily cases per 100,000 residents.
The statewide average as of Wednesday was 9.3 cases per 100,000 residents.
‘HOW TO PROTECT OURSELVES’
“Regardless of how infectious or how virulent this new variant, or any other new variant, turns out to be, we already know how to protect ourselves,” said Nevada County Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Glennah Trochet in a Q&A Wednesday.
Precautions include wearing a mask in public — especially indoors, but also outdoors if in a crowded setting — as well as staying home when sick, and both staying home and notifying contacts if testing positive for COVID-19, said Trochet.
Kellermann encouraged vaccination for COVID-19, calling it “our primary defense” and adding that those who are eligible for a booster dose should get one.
Explaining the difference between cases in people who are vaccinated and those who are not, Kellermann said, “The viral loads initially can be very similar, particularly in the nose and mouth (and) the oropharynx, but they drop off quite appreciably in the vaccinated versus the unimmunized.”
He explained that this means someone who is vaccinated could contract the virus and experience initial symptoms shortly afterward, but that antibodies stimulated by immunization should then kick in to prevent illness from progressing further. This, he said, is why the two groups see significantly different rates of COVID-19 hospitalization.
Trochet agreed, adding that being vaccinated for COVID-19 also makes the likelihood that the individual gets infected in the first place “a lot less” than if they had not been vaccinated.
She said that she is commonly asked why someone should get vaccinated if people who get vaccinated might still get sick.
“And it’s because some vaccinated people still get sick, but most vaccinated people do not, as opposed to most unvaccinated people that encounter the virus, they will get sick,” said Trochet. “And the vaccine protects against hospitalization and death from the virus to a much greater degree than if you’re not vaccinated.”
According to the state COVID-19 dashboard, from Nov. 14 to 20, unvaccinated people statewide were 7.2 times more likely to get COVID-19, and 12.5 times more likely to be hospitalized with it, than people who were vaccinated.
Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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