HONOLULU (KHON2) — Scientists across the globe are beginning to learn more about the new COVID variant omicron.
Just about a week after omicron was named a variant of concern around Nov. 25, more than 30 countries and over a dozen states have already reported cases.
On Friday, Dec. 3, the World Health Organization (WHO) said studies suggested increased transmissibility with omicron.
“What we need to understand is if it’s more or less transmissible compared to delta,” explained Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead. “The delta variant is still dominant worldwide, that’s important to keep in mind, so we need to see how omicron compares to delta when they’re both circulating in the population at the same time. So, it will take a few days for us to get that information.”
Omicron has 32 mutations to its spike protein, which helps the virus latch onto human cells, compared to delta — which has nine.
Van Kerkhove said mild to severe symptoms have been reported across the globe, but it can take two weeks to see deaths increase if omicron does indeed cause more severe illness.
“Information is not going to come out in one big bang,” explained Hawaii Pacific Health Dr. Douglas Kwock, Vice President of Medical Affairs. “Information is going to kind of trickle out as we learn new things about the virus.”
Hawaii’s first omicron case was confirmed in an unvaccinated Oahu resident who is under the age of 65, with no travel history and had been infected with the coronavirus in 2020. The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) said it suggests that the variant could already be spreading within the community on Oahu.
“We have not seen any increase at all in our positivity rate, our hospitalization rate, active case count or hospital numbers,” explained Lt. Gov. Josh Green. “In fact, all the numbers have been trending down. So, if omicron is here, and it’s spreading, it’s not leading to more disease overall.”
Kauai’s district health officer said, regardless of the names, all variants spread through respiratory droplets.
“So, all of the things that we have practiced and gotten good at and know make a difference, continue to make a difference,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai District Health Officer. “It’s not just about being vaccinated, it’s not just about wearing a mask, it’s not just about avoiding crowds, it’s really using the layered approach.”
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