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Health: It’s too early to know how severe or contagious Omicron will be

  • spearson—World Health Organization

Monitor staff
Published: 12/3/2021 10:22:14 AM
Modified: 12/3/2021 10:21:41 AM

A new COVID-19 variant, dubbed the Omicron variant, another Greek letter title, was first detected in South Africa last week. On Monday, the World Health Organization classified it as a “variant of concern” and it has since been found in several countries including Germany, Australia, Japan, and Canada.

Though many questions remain about the new variant, here’s what we know so far:

Is Omicron more contagious than other COVID-19 strains?

We don’t know.

State epidemiologist Ben Chan said it’s too soon to tell whether the Omicron variant is more contagious or causes more serious illness but several mutations are cause for concern.

The World Health Organization has classified Omicron as a “variant of concern,” due to genetic changes that are known to affect characteristics like how well vaccines work and disease severity.

Health officials said the United States is better prepared to contain this variant than it was with other variants, thanks to vaccines and other public health tools.

Is Omicron in the United States?

Yes. It was detected in San Francisco on Wednesday in an individual who recently returned from South Africa. The infected person was fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms that are improving.

Omicron was first detected in South Africa last week and has since been found in several countries including Germany, Australia, Japan, and Canada.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the variant was already spreading in the United States.

Chan said Omicron has not been detected in New Hampshire, despite a thorough three-step genome sequencing process that tests samples in the state laboratory, contracted national labs, and the Centers for Disease Control’s labs. However, the presence of Omicron in the state is an inevitability, as COIVD-19 spreads rampantly through New Hampshire.

How do I protect myself?

Scientists still believe that vaccines are the most effective way to protect yourself from all variants of COVID-19.

Booster shots, which bolster the immune system, are even more important now. To this end, New Hampshire will hold a vaccine event on Dec.11 that is expected to administer 10,000 booster shots across 15 sites, including one in Concord. Appointments slots are posted at business.nh.gov/covidvaccineregistration/ — walk in appointments are not accepted.

According to state officials, all appointments in Concord have been filled but other neighboring cities may have slots available.

The same public health measures that have worked against previous variants — like Alpha and Delta— will work to protect you against Omicron.

The World Health Organization reminded individuals to wear well-fitting masks, practice good hand hygiene, practice physical distancing, improve ventilation of indoor spaces, and avoid crowded places.

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