NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) – As we brace for the potential impacts of the latest COVID variant to be discovered in the US, North Carolina-based Novant Health experts are sharing the latest information available on the virus, and guidance on how to plan for the upcoming holiday travel and party season.
Dr. David Priest, an Infectious Disease specialist with the hospital system, says news of a new variant is not surprising, and he expects COVID to continue to mutate. While there are no confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in North Carolina, he believes it may already be here, or will be here within a matter of weeks. Drug manufactures are already adjusting vaccines to new variants, and hope to have an updated vaccine within 100 days.
Scientists don’t yet know whether the Omicron variant is more contagious, or whether the symptoms of this strain will be more severe. It’s also unclear if current treatment strategies for COVID-19 will be as effective with the Omicron variant. Regardless, experts say the same things you did to protect yourself against earlier strains will continue to be effective now.
While a doctor in South Africa who has treated patients with with Omicron strain spoke to reporters this week saying the symptoms she’d seen were mild, Dr. Priest warns that evidence is anecdotal.
“I don’t know what the number of patients is, I don’t know where that [information is] coming from,” Priest explained. “I think it’s typically been in younger patients which is often more mild in younger patients regardless of the variant, so I don’t want to put too much stock in that before more time has gone by to see what the true case is for everybody.”
As people prepare for the upcoming holiday season with limited information, Dr. Priest shared advice for how to assess your risk when it comes to holiday gatherings and travel.
“My advice is if you are fully vaccinated and you are having events with other fully vaccinated people, your family, I think those things can proceed normally and I think that’s what people are going to do. I think that if you are going to be at events where it’s unclear who is vaccinated, that are going to be in tight quarters inside with poor airflow, then I think you have to understand and think about your degree of risk,” Priest said, adding that people in high risk categories need to be more careful.
He noted that vaccination is still the best defense against this virus, and that even though preliminary vaccines were not designed for specific variants, they have still provided excellent protection for people against COVID variants. It’s too early to tell if that will be the case with Omicron. Priest added that while boosters are a good idea, they won’t be our way out of the pandemic. The focus needs to continue to be encouraging unvaccinated people to get vaccinated.
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