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It’s ‘just a matter of time’ until omicron hits 2-state region, experts say

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 11:25 AM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - As uncertainty remains over the new COVID-19 variant, Georgia and South Carolina are preparing for it.

They’re doing so as a second confirmed case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has been discovered in Minnesota in a man who’s traveled to New York City. The first confirmed case of the variant in the nation was reported in California on Wednesday.

In the two-state region, experts are bracing for what they see as its inevitable arrival here.

“We have not detected any cases in Georgia at this time, although it is likely just a matter of time before we do detect a case,” said Dr. Alexander Millman, chief medical officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Millman says the department is still heavily encouraging vaccines.

Officials at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control say they’re no more concerned than they were before the announcement came out. They say we have all the necessary means to protect ourselves from this new variant.

But like their counterparts in Georgia, South Carolina leaders are urging vaccination.

“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.

“At this time, we do know very little about this newest variant. We continue to closely monitor the new information from both the CDC and World Health Organization,” Traxler said. “However, regardless of omicron or delta or any other variant, the actions you can take to protect yourselves and the people around you remains the same.”

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

“We have seen a significant increase in the booster dosing since approval for that and the rate of the current booster dosing does exceed the rate of primary vaccination in South Carolina,” she said.

The advice is the same as what an Augusta University Health expert said this week.

“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 said Dr. Jose Vazquez, chief of infectious disease and professional medicine at Augusta University. “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.”

“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.”

At least 23 other countries have reported omicron infections since South African authorities first identified the variant a week ago — an announcement that led the U.S. and many other nations to almost immediately bar airline travelers arriving from southern Africa.

In South Africa, new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a single day to almost 8,600, authorities reported Wednesday, and the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said omicron has now overtaken the delta variant among samples now being analyzed at the genetic level.

“Any declaration of what will or will not happen with this variant, I think it is too early to say,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

From reports by Gray Media Group and The Associated Press