I know many of you are thinking here we go again with another COVID-19 Variant. The Omicron Variant has medical researchers working longer hours to learn more about this variant. While the world is slowly returning to normal Omicron variant is showing signs it can spread much faster than the Delta Variant. Now everyone is wondering if Masks Mandates in public areas will be making a come back soon, or will the CDC release new recommendations for restrictions soon? As of today, the first confirmed case of the Omicron Variant is in California.
I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Jan. K. Carney, M.D. M.P.H about the new variant, and what we need to do to protect ourselves as well as other people safe from the Omicron variant. Dr. Carney is the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean for Public Health. She has been named associate dean for public health and health policy and senior advisor to the dean. In addition, she will serve as Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME) faculty accreditation lead for the College’s 2021 site visit for accreditation.
Nationally, Carney recently served as vice-chair of the American College of Physicians’ Health and Public Policy Committee, contributing to health policy publications in areas of social determinants of health, insurance coverage, and patient partnership in health care.
Veronica Charnell: Do you think mask mandates will return due to this Variant?
Dr. Jan. K. Carney: It is too soon to tell. This is an evolving situation. On Nov 26, WHO named a new Variant of Concern, B.1.1.529, Omicron. Omicron was reported to WHO from South Africa on November 24. Some of the very early evidence suggests that Omicron’s genetic mutations may allow a higher risk of reinfection with the virus. Right now, in response to Omicron, global efforts focus on increased tracking of this variant, reporting new outbreaks, and conducting rapid research to understand what the genetic mutations mean for public health. As of November 26, there were no reported cases in the U.S., but public health officials are following this closely.
Veronica Charnell: Other than getting vaccinated what else can we do to protect ourselves from COVID-19 variants?
Dr. Jan. K. Carney: Get fully vaccinated if you are not already. Get a booster if you have not already. Wear a mask indoors in areas with high community transmission, per the CDC.
Viruses mutate, and the virus that causes COVID-19 infection continues to change. Variants, or a virus genome that contains one or more mutations, and scientists are tracking variants globally since the pandemic began.
One way we can all contribute is by doing our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our own communities. Right now, this means, getting your vaccines if you are eligible, including a booster, wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, and following other science-based prevention strategies, such as good hand hygiene and staying home if you are sick. I recommend that people rely on science-based websites for up-to-date information, like the CDC, WHO, and health departments in every U.S. state.
Veronica Charnell: Is this new Covid Variant stronger than the Delta Variant?
Dr. Jan. K. Carney: According to the WHO, medical, scientific, and public health experts around the world do not yet know whether Omicron spreads more easily person to person than the Delta variant - this is a priority area for rapid research. Whether or not Omicron can cause more serious COVID-19 disease is unknown and under intense investigation. Experts believe it will take days to several weeks to understand this variant more fully.
Veronica Charnell: What are your recommendations for us to stay safe if this virus continues to mutant?
Dr. Jan. K. Carney: Listen to and follow expert public health guidelines. Visit the CDC and WHO website regularly. In the U.S., health departments are a key source of up-to-date information for the public. As of today, not enough real-world data is yet available to draw firm conclusions; scientists and public health officials are learning more each day. My advice is to follow the CDC and WHO recommendations closely. Continue to take the same preventive precautions that we know work against COVID-19 infection: find a place to get vaccinated if you are not already and get a booster if needed, wear a mask indoors in public places, practice good hand hygiene, and use common sense about crowded indoor spaces and social distancing. Stay calm and follow the science.