LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The omicron variant of COVID-19 has made its way to the commonwealth, and health care professionals are offering up information Kentuckians need to know to stay safe.
Doctors know the variant is in Jefferson County in particular from the testing of wastewater.
Whereas the traditional method of detecting COVID variants is through clinical sampling, relatively few of those samples go on to get sequenced. Wastewater testing, however, is both passive and comprehensive, said Dr. Ted Smith.
“There's a lot of heightened concern that we might need to know how quickly this is displacing the delta variant in our community. It has implications for the health care system, implications for lots of other things,” Smith said.
Smith is the director of the Center for Healthy Air, Water and Soil for the University of Louisville Christina Lee Brown Environ Institute.
Louisville researchers in the institute have been analyzing wastewater samples provided by the Louisville/Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District for the presence of COVID-19 since June 2020.
Wastewater samples taken on Dec. 13 from two of 17 sewage locations regularly sampled across Jefferson County indicated the presence of the omicron variant. Smith remarked on the results, and what they mean.
“We do know that this particular variant, the omicron variant, is much more transmissible than previous variants. And the delta variant that we’re all mostly experiencing here is highly transmissible. This is even more so,” Smith said. “This is something that if somebody gets sick with this particular variant, they’re going to infect many, many more people when they encounter them than any other strain that we have seen. So we know a lot more people are going to get sick with this particular strain. And we know that the immunity you get from vaccination doesn’t prevent you from the earliest stages of infection.”
Gov. Andy Beshear announced the omicron variant has been detected in Kenton and Campbell counties as well as Fayette and Jefferson counties.
In Northern Kentucky, the health department on Monday said in a statement to Spectrum News 1, “ There have only been two cases of Omicron in NKY, both having mild symptoms. At this time, we have very little data to make recommendations regarding this variant specifically. We, along with the CDC and the State of KY, are recommending the current protocol of vaccination, social distancing, washing, hands, and wearing masks to avoid COVID. The CDC has stated that our current vaccines are recommended as your best option to avoid getting extremely sick from COVID or dying. We have very little data on Omicron as only two cases were just discovered in the last 72 hours or so.”
Smith also said vaccination is the best option for fighting this variant, backed up by what researchers have found in the waste water.
“Across Louisville, when we look at all the different catchment areas, and we overlay vaccination rates, the lowest levels of virus we recover are in the highest vaccination areas in our county,” he said.
Kentucky Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Steven Stack also said omicron is a lot more transmissible than the other variant, saying people planning for holiday parties should wear masks, and take at-home tests.