This has been an unexpectedly wild week of rapid Covid developments with the emergence of the new Omicron variant. Here’s what we’ve learned to date:
First identified in South Africa, the variant has spread rapidly throughout the world. On 11/4/21 South Africa was reporting 250 Omicron cases daily, and by 12/2/21 the number had increased to 4,800 cases per day. More than 74% of South African cases were identified by genomic sequencing with the Omicron variant by 11/21/21. As of 12.6.21, more than 400 cases have been identified in 45 countries and the variant has been confirmed in cases in 17 U.S. states.
The first U.S. case was seen in San Francisco, CA, when a resident became ill after returning from an 11/22/21 trip to South Africa. The Omicron genomic identification was made on 11/29/21. The patient experienced mild symptoms and had previously received the two-dose Moderna vaccine (that many patients at Larew Internal Medicine have received) but had not yet received the booster.
Variant of Concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron a ‘Variant of Concern.’ This means the variant has the potential to:
- Be more contagious
- Cause a more serious illness
- Reduce the effectiveness of:
- Public health measures
- Covid-19 tests
- Current treatments
To date, it certainly appears to be more contagious, but fortunately initial reports from South Africa indicated cases appeared to be somewhat more mild, with fatigue the most prominent complaint.
Earlier last week, the official word was: “Omicron is a cause for concern not panic.” I think this remains a reasonable assessment at the current time, despite the news reports which became a bit more hyped and dramatic about the severity of the situation as the week went on. To confirm that I hadn’t missed anything that might have spurred the change in tone, I reviewed all my notes and official reports and I think “cause for concern not panic” remains reasonable. In the next 7 to14 days we will likely better understand if greater concern is warranted or not.
On a pragmatic basis, I continue to believe common sense should prevail, and these measures should be taken:
- Get vaccinated. Encourage your friends and family to get vaccinated if they have not yet done so. This may help: tell them to get vaccinated because you love them!
- Get your booster: 6 months after the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines; 2 months after the Johnson and Johnson. You can get any of the vaccines as a booster. Most of our members are sticking with the vaccine they first received, whether Moderna or Pfizer, for their booster; if they received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine first, most are opting for a Moderna booster. PLEASE NOTE: If you have not yet received your booster, give us a call and we can schedule a convenient date for you to get one at our office. You do not need to be a member of Larew Internal Medicine to schedule a booster with us.
- Wear a mask if you are at an indoor public gathering.
- Practice social distancing when possible.
- Do not attend social activities or go to work if you are feeling ill.
- Get tested when needed. If you need a Covid-19 test, please call our office for a quick and easy experience – you can stay seated in your car throughout the test. We’ve been giving 5 to 10 tests per week in recent months. Call us and schedule a time for your test. When you arrive, park in the parking lot and call us on your cell phone. We’ll come out to your car and perform the simple nasal swab test through your open car window as you remain seated. Results are received in less than 30 minutes and we will call you immediately when they are ready. We are pleased to offer this test to our patients’ family members and friends.
Enjoy the holiday season
If you and your family are vaccinated, I believe you can plan for, and safely enjoy upcoming family holiday events. Obviously this is not a guarantee that someone will not get sick. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, two patients who had both been vaccinated did get Covid-19, but experienced mild symptoms.
Next week I plan to provide an update on where we are with some Covid treatment options…please keep an eye out for the next email, or check my website.
Dr. Rick Larew