2-state region waits, watches and worries about omicron variant

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 3:27 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - With concerns growing over the newly discovered omicron variant of coronavirus, health experts here are watching the situation carefully.

Both the Georgia Department of Public Health and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control say no cases of the variant have been found in the region, although the U.S. reported its first confirmed case Wednesday.

The Georgia and South Carolina agencies joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in saying the emergence of omicron reinforces the need for initial and booster vaccinations.

“For anyone who hasn’t received their first shot against COVID-19 or hasn’t gotten their second shot in the series, or received their booster, please don’t wait any longer,” South Carolina Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said Wednesday.

“What is known is that COVID vaccination helps stop transmission of infection which prevents new variants from emerging,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Vaccination is more important than ever with the emergence of this new variant and the holidays just around the corner.”

Across the river in South Carolina, DHEC said the best way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization or death from COVID-19 infection is by receiving the follow-up booster shot when eligible, continuing to wear masks when indoors in public places and practicing social distancing when appropriate.

DHEC officials said the agency is proactively preparing for any potential threats posed by omicron and is already testing for it.

“Currently, we don’t have confirmed data about the transmissibility, the clinical presentation, disease severity, risk of infection, vaccine or treatment effectiveness or much else about omicron,” Traxler said. “However, regardless of omicron or delta or any other variant, the actions you can take to protect yourself and protect others around you remains the same: vaccinations, masks, testing, physical distancing.”

DHEC hoping to prevent repeat of January post-holiday COVID surge

Traxler said South Carolina, like most other states, experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks after Christmas and New Year’s.

“Jan. 6, 2021, remains our highest single day case count to date with 7,686″ new cases detected, she said. “Luckily, because of vaccines, we do not have to repeat last year with abundant access statewide to these life-saving vaccines. We’re hopeful that we won’t even come close to seeing that deadly spike that we saw last holiday season and shortly afterwards.”

She said only half of all eligible South Carolinians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and nearly 60% have received at least one shot. She said more and more young people are getting vaccinated each day.

More than 502,000 South Carolinians have received a booster dose of the COVID-19 as of Tuesday, Traxler said. That figure, she said, includes those who are immunocompromised.

“This clearly tells us there is a great deal of public interest in remaining protected against COVID-19,” she said.

But she said viruses, when given the opportunity and time, will mutate to survive, urging vaccination as the “best defense.”

Local experts are saying not to panic; just continue to take steps to protect yourself.

“What’s the best way to deal with this right now would be certainly if you are not vaccinated, you really need to get vaccinated now,” said Dr. Jose Vazquez, chief of infectious disease and professional medicine at Augusta University.

“The two vaccines that have been tested appear to be effective against this virus,” he said. “The monoclonal antibodies that we used for treatment in patients who have acute COVID works against this. And the booster shot is going to help even more.”

From reports by WRDW/WAGT, WIS and WTOC