ATLANTA (WJBF) — The Georgia Department of Public Health says it is closely monitoring the new omicron COVID-19 variant first detected in southern Africa, but says there are no reported cases in the Peach State at this time.
Doctors at Emory University say if you have symptoms of COVID to get tested immediately, adding that current PCR tests can detect the presence of the omicron variant.
The state health department says its working with the World Health Organization and federal agencies to better understand the variant and reduce risk to Georgians.
“That this variant appears to be capable of infecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, however, some of those vaccinated people seem to have a pretty mild illness, but I will caution from assuming that because most of the cases we have seen so far, have been in young individuals,” says Dr. Carlos Del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory.
But Emory doctors believe omicron is already in the U.S., given the number of international travelers and direct flights from South Africa.
“What omicron is different, is that omicron has, as you said, multiple, multiple mutations and those mutations occur in two sites, in particular,” says Dr. Del Rio. “One of them occurs in the spike protein and this is really important because that is what a lot of our treatments, our antibodies, our vaccines are directed.”
“We know that scientists are working very quickly to try to get answers to certain questions such as this is more transmissible than other variants, is this disease in this variant more severe than in other variants, how well do our vaccines work and our therapeutics work,” says Dr. Alexander Millman, chief medical officer at the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The state’s public health commissioner says getting vaccinated will prevent the virus from mutating and stop new variants from emerging.
“Because of the experience that we’ve had responding to COVID the past two years, we are prepared to be able to respond to a case that may be detected in Georgia in the future,” says Dr. Millman. “For example, we have the testing capacity right now to be able to detect a case, we have countermeasures that are available such as vaccines.”
But the good news is DPH says don’t cancel your holiday plans just yet.
Emory doctors say the previous delta variant is still present in more than 80% of counties in the country with a high transmissibility rate. That’s why the DPH is urging Georgians older than 5 to get vaccinated especially with the holidays around the corner, and getting boosters for those older than 18 if they have completed their first series of the vaccine.
Cases of the new COVID-19 variant have been detected in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany and the UK.
Emory doctors say the omicron variant was first discovered on Nov. 9 in Botswana, and then seen in South Africa three days later. The two cases in Hong Kong were men who had received the Pfizer dose but tested positive for the omicron variant.