Doctors: Omicron will be dominant variant by the first of the year
MURRAY, Utah — Christmas Eve is only a week away, and doctors are warning everyone to be careful about gathering as COVID-19 continues to sicken Utahns.
Omicron will quickly become the dominant variant in our state if it continues to spread the way it has so far.
Doctors shared safe strategies Friday for gathering during the holidays.
Right now, the delta variant is responsible for the COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Utah. But an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare said omicron will likely be the dominant strain by the first of the year.
“The elephant in the room is the omicron variant,” Dr. Brandon Webb said.
The latest variant, which was first detected in South Africa, is spreading rapidly across the U.S. In northeastern states, a growing proportion of COVID-19 cases are now coming from omicron, a proportion doubling every two to three days.
“What that means is that this new variant is more efficient at causing infection, and it’s able to outcompete delta,” Webb said.
Right now, he said, omicron only represents 3 to 6% of the cases in Utah, pending confirmation by sequencing at the Utah Department of Health lab. But that proportion will likely surge if it follows the path it has taken in Europe and the Eastern U.S.
“Going into the next month, that’s concerning, because we’re projecting that the omicron variant will significantly burden the healthcare systems because of its transmissibility,” Webb said.
New data out of the United Kingdom shows the vaccines, plus boosters, protect against severe infection and death from either variant. If you’re going to a large gathering, Webb suggested getting tested, or testing yourself at home.
Also, understand your individual risk.
“If you’re not fully vaccinated, the likelihood of having severe COVID-19 is much higher,” Webb said.
Even more so for adults with medical conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, or other conditions that impair the immune system.
“It’s very important for individuals to understand their risk and to take appropriate precautions,” Webb said.
Social distancing, masking, and limiting the size of your gatherings will work against omicron, the doctor said.
“The most important is not to gather, not to be in public if you have symptoms. If you have symptoms that are consistent with a respiratory infection, please don’t gather with individuals — get tested instead.”
The infectious diseases physician said testing early and testing often for those with symptoms is the best way to contain the virus, along with vaccinating and boosting everyone who is eligible.
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How do I prevent it?
The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:
- Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
- Avoid touching your face
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
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