After over a year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic and cases dropping in states — including Idaho — there's a new variant, just discovered last week that has health officials on edge. The Omicron variant was detected In South Africa less than a week ago.
Since the mutation of the virus is so new, health officials do not know much about the variant — or how severe infection could be.
Health experts in the Treasure Valley expressed concern over the unknown effects this virus could have.
“This virus is continuing to evolve. It’s continuing to evolve in ways to get more transmissible to reach more people,” Former St. Luke’s CEO Dr. David Pate said.
Idaho recently deactivated Crisis Standards of Care statewide, apart from northern Idaho, due to less strain on the hospitals and a downward trend in COVID-19 positivity rates, but its unknown how the Omicron strain could affect Idaho’s healthcare systems.
78 total COVID patients @StLukesHealth: 48 infectious and 30 out of isolation. Idaho now mostly out of Crisis Standards of Care. With the holidays upon us and a new variant circulating - our best defense is vaccination and ALL adults should get boosted. #OneSharedPurpose— Robert Cavagnol (@RCavagnol) November 29, 2021
“We're just starting to learn about the Omicron variant and we don’t have a lot of information to provide specific guidance to really determine if it is more transmissible if it's more infectious if the vaccine is less efficacious. These are all things we will learn with time and that’s why we need to continue to do the things we know work,” Sawtooth Epidemiologist Physician Dr. Casi Wyatt said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Omicron variant is a “variant of concern.” The WHO states the most effective ways to continue to keep yourself safe include masking, social distancing and getting vaccinated.
“What we’ve learned from previous strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is that people who are vaccinated are less likely to be infected. They are less likely to transmit the infection to other individuals,” Wyatt said.
Here are the answers to the most common questions I get about the new variant:— Dr. David Pate (@drpatesblog) November 28, 2021
1. Why the name omicron? The WHO has been using the Greek alphabet to name new variants of concern. Many were expecting this to be named Nu, the letter that follows our last variant, Mu, but there was
“As viruses evolve, they can evolve for several reasons. What we found is with this virus, is the way it evolves, it's to progressively more transmissible viruses. That's what it sees as its advantage,” Pate said.
Booster doses are now available for all adults and are recommended by health officials as new variants emerge.
“The booster is very important when there are new strains circulating to help provide some additional protection from the COVID-19 infection,” Wyatt.
More information should be coming in the next few weeks as officials learn more about how the variant works.