Local docs expect high cases from omicron, but low hospitalizations

Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 6:32 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - We asked experts at Augusta University Health if we should expect another surge in coronavirus cases now that the extra-contagious omicron variant is exploding nationally.

And how concerned should we be about this new variant?

Doctors here say there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is we know how to keep ourselves and others safe this week as we travel and visit family and friends for the holidays. As of right now, the symptoms of omicron are mostly mild. The bad news is it spreads more easily than other variants. We spoke to one expert who explains why.

“It’s called the spike protein on the coronavirus. It’s what actually helps the virus enter into our cells and make us sick, and in the case of delta and the other variants, we had a handful of mutations in that spike protein,” said Dr. Julie Hirschhorn, lab director for the Molecular Pathology Laboratories at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Hirschhorn says the number of mutations doubled if not tripled with omicron, so there are a lot of possibilities for how omicron may interact with our bodies. One way that is that it has mutated the infection rate. With the delta variant, one person could infect five to seven other people.

Omicron’s infection rate is higher.

But this is usually how viruses evolve.

“It is to a virus’ advantage for survival not to kill the host. If the host dies, all the virus dies with the host,” said Dr. Rodger MacArthur, professor of medicine in the division of Infectious Diseases Medical College of Georgia at AU.

That explains initial reports of more mild symptoms than with other versions of coronavirus. Our local health officials aren’t anticipating an increase in hospitalizations like we saw with the delta variant but they do anticipate an increase in cases.

No matter what they say they are always prepared to give the best care.

“Obviously, this pandemic has been tricky, and the good news is we’ve become very adept at dealing with it,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, vice president and chief medical officer of AU Health System.

So this holiday season, weigh the risks and benefits like you’ve been doing.

Our local health experts say you don’t have to cancel your holiday plans.

Just be mindful and cautious.

If you’re traveling, they recommend wearing your mask, social distancing when you can and even buying an at-home COVID test to make sure right before you see your loved ones.

“Reasonable precautions to keep people safe is what I would recommend,” Coule said. “It wouldn’t be the holidays if you couldn’t visit family.”

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