LOUISVILLE, Ky. — No cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant have been reported in the United States, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president says “inevitably, it will be here.”
Even with little information about the variant, Kentucky health officials are preparing for its arrival and reminding the public of how they can help prevent the spread.
Norton Health Care chief medical officer Dr. Steve Hester says the one thing known about the variant has opened a door of questions.
“We know that the virus is going to change and so this isn't a surprise, but the reason they're saying this one's a variant of concern is because of the changes to that spike protein. It's a little different from some of the other changes we've seen,” says Hester.
The biggest concerns are how transmissible and severe the strand will be and whether it can evade current vaccines and treatments.
UofL Health chief medical officer Dr. Jason Smith says trends in cases in South Africa could hint at a serious impact approaching.
“It was spreading within a population that had a vaccine and a country that had very high infectious disease control policies and a very good public health system and so that gives us all pause and it should give us all concern,” says Smith.
He says with 2,000 cases, there hasn’t been a huge uptick worldwide yet. He says Omicron would have to be more transmissible than the Delta variant or escape the community's immune response in order to cause problems.
He says the good news is that everything the community needs to do in response to this new strand, is everything that’s already being done to control COVID.
“We kept all of those beds, things are a little bit mothballed because we haven't needed them luckily, but we do have that in place. We've got plenty of PPE. We've got the ability for the vaccine as well as the monoclonal antibody treatment,” says Smith.
Hester and Smith agree that everyone can do their part by continuing to social distance, wearing face masks, and getting the vaccine and booster shots.
“Regardless of what variant it is, to date, the vaccine has been shown to be effective,” says Hester. “Certainly doesn't prevent all transmission, but does decrease hospitalization and death and one of the things that the booster really shows benefit for is decreasing transmissibility and so that's gonna be really important if we see a new variant to make sure everyone gets protected.”
Hester and Smith say at least 90% of COVID patients at their hospitals are unvaccinated.
Smith says he believes it will be another 4 to 6 weeks before data reveals insight into the unknowns of the Omicron variant.