SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A new variant of the coronavirus that prompted the U.S. to issue a travel ban is also prompting concerns locally.
“It’s not just a slightly changed delta variant, it’s a different strain of the virus,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, who is the district health director for the Coastal Health District.
He’s talking about the omicron variant first reported in Africa. It’s already shown up in several other countries, including Canada, and Davis says “it’s just a matter of time before we have cases in the U.S., if we don’t already.”
President Joe Biden spoke to the nation Monday saying it’s a “concern but no one should panic.”
Biden also said the best protection is to be vaccinated or get a booster shot.
Davis agrees — although he says it’s unclear how well current vaccines will work against this variant. Still, he urges people to get a shot or get a booster.
He says masking, social distancing and vaccination are all the tools available to people as we enter the travel season for the Christmas holiday.
“We’re just coming from Thanksgiving travel and now going into Christmas and News Year’s with travel and gatherings and cold weather and going indoors. So, it could be a mess,” said Davis.
“I don’t want to go back to being ‘gloom and doom Davis,’ but I just think people will need to be aware that it’s out there,” he added.
Dr. Stephen Thacker, the associate chief medical officer for Memorial Health, echoed his support for people getting vaccinated — especially with this latest and more contagious variant.
“I do think it’s the right sentiment to say we need to be cautious but not necessarily panic,” said Thacker. “I think we’ve got a lot of evidence and (a good) track record with our vaccines.
“The main thing that people can do to help protect themselves is to get vaccinated if they’re not already and be boosted if they have not already gotten that booster vaccination for their series.”
Thacker also has a lot of faith in the current vaccines.
“It’s my hope and, honestly, my expectation that there’s going to be continued benefit provided.”
He also said he’s hopeful there won’t be another surge with this new variant because he said he thinks we will see “cases go up related to travel from the holiday, and that’s just with the delta variant.”
Thacker says the message for safe holiday gatherings remains the same, i.e. keep your distance, wear a mask indoors and try to do as many activities as possible outside. He also says hosts should decide if they will seek to have only vaccinated people attend a gathering.
Thacker says with all the knowledge and research over the past year, the U.S. is in a much better position to prepare itself for this new variant.
Davis says it will be several weeks before the country can ascertain the impacts of the omicron variant but meanwhile, he says “mask up” and carefully consider travel and holiday plans.