NORWOOD, Ohio — The new omicron variant could be part of slight increases in new COVID-19 cases in counties around the region, according to infectious disease experts.
Researchers will need weeks to confirm the variant's presence; however, one doctor said the seven days following Dec. 10 will bring an important signal.
Two weeks after Thanksgiving 2020, departments of health reported surges in new coronavirus infections. That memory is more than a stat to Lauren Jones' family.
"I got my shot already," said Marshall, Jones' 6-year-old son.
He received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday. His full vaccination almost cures his mom's stress.
"I worry, because he likes to keep his hands in his mouth," Jones said. "I don't want my son to get sick at all — he goes to school. A lot of other kids are not vaccinated. A lot of kids can't fight off COVID and other stuff going around."
While the Ohio Department of Health reported small increases in new COVID-19 cases among children and adults in November, Gov. Mike DeWine and others expect a new virus mutation, omicron, to show up.
"We know it is, in all likelihood, already in Ohio," DeWine said.
Along with confirming and tracking the variant, local researchers also hope to learn more about the potential for it to infect people after their shots.
"There definitely is potential for a vaccine-resistant variant," said Suzi Francis, the ambulatory pharmacy director for St. Elizabeth Healthcare.
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"That would not be a surprise," added Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "This is very much like influenza, where influenza adapts and changes and we have to adapt and change our vaccine every year. So this would not be unusual for a respiratory virus like a coronavirus to adapt and change that way."
Fichtenbaum said he thinks the days after Dec. 10 could bring an indicator of what lies ahead. After a post-Thanksgiving infection spike in 2020, he thinks data reported next month could show a new or predictable spreading pattern.
"I think that week is pivotal for us to understand which direction the pandemic is currently going," he said.
While a surge hardly means omicron is a problem, researchers worry about communities with less than half its residents vaccinated. Without sufficient immunity, there is potential for repeat COVID-19 infections and spread, Fichtenbaum said.
"I make sure my kids wear their masks and keep their hands sanitized," Jones said. "That is the main thing, (along with washing) their hands."
Concerns about virus spread drove Jones to isolate her household, which includes a 4-year-old ineligible for vaccination, away from holiday gatherings for Thanksgiving and beyond.
"Christmas is going to be the same," Jones said. "I'm not going to have a lot of people in my house."