CINCINNATI — While the newly identified "omicron" variant of COVID-19 has been categorized as a "variant of concern," local health leaders said more information is needed before comparing it to the highly contagious delta strain.
The World Health Organization announced Friday the strain recently detected in southern Africa is potentially more transmissible and could cause more severe disease than other COVID variants. Since it was first discovered in South Africa, officials said the variant has been detected in Hong Kong, Botswana and Canada.
Dr. Steve Feagins, Mercy Health's chief clinical officer, said the discovery changes nothing in the Tri-State.
"It changes nothing in what we do here locally," Feagins said. "We continue to recommend you get your vaccine or you get your booster."
Feagins said he has been treating up to 20 COVID patients this holiday weekend, seeing a "little plateau" in the last week. While he has seen the same information about a new variant, he said it does not mean omicron will be the new delta variant.
"Delta is actually not the last variant of concern — it was mu," Feagins said. "So beta was a variant of concern that theoretically had more resistance to vaccines, but yet you don't hear anything about it...same with mu...because once again, delta was the dominant transmittable variant that we've seen."
U.S. health leaders say it will still be one to two weeks until more information is known. Tri-State experts said there are three metrics that matter.
"You want to look at how contagious or transmissible it is," said Kate Schroeder with the Health Collaborative. "If it's much more transmissible, that's a concern. The second thing is how severe it is — does it lead to greater severity of disease than prior variants? Then the third one is how efficacious are vaccines against it, so does it elude our vaccines more than previous variants did?"
Feagins said tests should pick up omicron quickly. No matter how many variants there are, flu season is potentially the third threat this winter.
"We do have this concern that we're going to see an equally high respiratory virus number in the hospital — half of which is flu, half of which is COVID," Feagins said.
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