By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is quickly ascending to the top of conversations worldwide and EBCI Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) is patiently preparing for the next step.
As of the publishing of this article, there have been cases of the Omicron variant detected in 16 states. There have been no identified cases in North Carolina at this time. Vickie Bradley, secretary of EBCI PHHS, said that spread is inevitable but that the community needs to stay calm.
“Don’t panic. Do the same things. The thing they can do is get vaccinated … it is the single most effective way to protect our community,” said Bradley.
A lot has changed even since the Cherokee One Feather’s conversation with Bradley on Nov. 30. At that time, there were no cases of Omicron in the United States. Currently, the variant is spreading much faster than understanding.
“Omicron has rapidly replaced the Delta variant across South Africa, suggesting that it’s more transmissible. That’s all, of course, sort of speculation at this point,” said Bradley.
“What we do know, as of the most recent sequencing data, over 99 percent of the sequenced specimens in North Carolina and the US are the Delta variant. So, that kind of shows you how quickly the Delta variant spread.”
Bradley said that the difficulty right now is there is so little information to go on.
“There is no actual data yet on immune escape, vaccine effectiveness, transmissibility, or illness severity. South Africa is sharing a lot of information with the national institutes of health … but we’re just waiting on the science and the research to come in. I think probably within a few weeks we will know much, much more. We just don’t know those answers yet.”
Bradley said there are some early signs suggesting mutations with the Omicron variant could lead to issues with vaccine effectiveness. This, too, is up in the air. Bradley said at this time she doesn’t know if the spread of Omicron could cause a need for another booster shot, but that is a possibility.
Following the wave of cases detected, the CDC changed their language on the COVID-19 booster shots to suggest that all adults ‘should’ be getting a booster shot as soon as possible. This is something Bradley endorsed, stating that the majority of hospitalizations they are seeing are individuals who have not received a vaccine.
On an international level, travel restrictions are once again being considered. Just this weekend the United Kingdom tightened their travel protocols. The United States attempted to get ahead of the variant and tighten restrictions from a number of countries. Shortly after, however, the first cases were detected in America.
Bradley said that as difficult as it may seem, people will need to be patient as the situation develops.
“Do we know anything at the local perspective? Will this affect business operations, will this affect masking laws, will it affect stay-at-home orders? We don’t have enough information at all to know that right now.”