Omicron Variant Sparks Public Health Concerns
The Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has been officially detected today in North America. Canadian officials announced this afternoon that two cases of the variant have appeared in Ontario, in two Canadian citizens who recently traveled to Nigeria.
Officially known as SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529, the Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organization from South Africa on November 24th, 2021, though the first known confirmed infection took place on November 9th, 2021. Since then, the variant has spread throughout Africa, as well as to areas in Europe, Asia, and now North America.
At this time, scientists have very little concrete information on the Omicron variant. Currently, scientists around the world are working to understand more about the variant; how fast it can spread, whether vaccinations or past infections of other COVID-19 variants can protect against it, and if it can produce more serious effects than its predecessors.
Thus far, data shows that cases of the Omicron variant have primarily been affecting young people, mostly resulting in symptoms of fatigue and body aches.
As mentioned before, scientists have limited information on the variant, but have discovered so far that the Omicron variant has thirty different mutations on its spike protein, or the part of the virus that infects a human cell by binding to it. This suggests that the variant may be more transmissible, and more resistant to antibodies from previously having another COVID-19 variant or receiving a vaccination against COVID-19.
Health officials say that though the CDC has not officially declared any cases of the Omicron variant in the United States, it is probably already here.
In order to try and slow the spread, the U.S. will be placing travel restrictions on the countries of Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi – places where the Omicron variant is most prevalent at the moment. Other countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Israel, and Germany will also be putting travel restrictions into effect for the same reason.
At this time in the COVID-19 pandemic, we have gone through many variants already, some worse than others. Omicron joins Delta as the only other variant of concern in the U.S., which the CDC defines as “a variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.”
Other variants of COVID-19 currently being monitored in the U.S. include Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Zeta, and Mu.
All viruses mutate at some point or another, and health officials state that while this new variant is unknown, this is not necessarily a cause for panic or alarm. At this time, we have a much better understanding of COVID-19 than we ever have before, giving us a foothold and a better advantage on how best to deal with the Omicron variant.
During the holiday season, amidst all the gathering and travel as well as flu season, it’s important to do our part to keep each other safe. After recent surges of COVID-19 infections in Inyo County, we now have public mask mandates which require face coverings in all public indoor settings. We also have free clinics to get COVID-19 vaccines, booster shots, pediatric vaccines, and flu shots. All aspects are important to help control the spread of the virus.
In small communities like ours, working together is essential in times when our entire population is affected. Remember that in our area, we have limited healthcare resources. There are only so many healthcare workers, hospital beds, ICU units, and pieces of equipment. An overwhelming amount of infections would be a huge strain on our local hospital; and not only would it make it more difficult for those with COVID-19 to get treatment, but for those with other injuries or illnesses to get treatment as well.
This holiday season, be compassionate to those around you, and to our healthcare workers, and do your part to keep our community safe and healthy.