Local health expert addresses new COVID variant ahead of holidays

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 11:38 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - People around the world are on-edge as cases of the omicron COVID variant are popping up in at least 20 countries.

President Joe Biden says he’ll be making decisions on travel restrictions on a week-to-week basis.

The omicron variant has 50 mutations. There are 32 mutations on the spike protein. The spike protein is how the virus attaches to human cells. But health experts say more mutations don’t necessarily make a meaner virus.

There still aren’t any confirmed cases here in the U.S., but health experts say it’s just a matter of time, considering how quickly it’s spreading. The closest confirmed case is in Canada.

Health experts learned the omicron variant was actually in Europe before it popped up in South Africa.

Local experts are saying don’t go into a frenzy just yet over this new variant – 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.

As the U.S. braces for the omicron variant, local health experts are learning about it in real time just like the rest of the world.

“So the only thing that we know so far is that it has many more mutations on the spike proteins over any of the other variants, and we have over 50 different variants so far,” said Vazquez. “It appears to be more contagious ... and the severity of the disease from South Africa appears to be less, so much milder illness than the delta or other variants.”

Vazquez says the best way to be prepared for this variant is to get vaccinated and get booster shots.

“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.”

Vazquez says he doesn’t think you need to take any extra precautions – but still to be mindful; if you feel sick to stay at home and get tested.

“We need to make sure that if you are sick, you really don’t need to come to your holiday party,” he said. “Going out to the pharmacy and buying those rapid antigen tests — you can now get the rapid COVID test.”

For those rapid COVID tests, CVS on Washington Road has them in stock, and also Walgreens has them. CVS might be the cheaper route, but whichever is your preference.

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