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Omicron to overtake delta as dominant COVID variant

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Dec 17, 2021

Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press

Kids and adults wait for their booster or second dose of COVID-19 vaccine at Northwest Community Church in Chicago, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. The new omicron coronavirus mutant speeding around the world may bring another wave of chaos, threatening to further stretch hospital workers already struggling with a surge of delta cases and upend holiday plans for the second year in a row.

By the first of the year, Omicron will be the dominant COVID-19 variant in Utah.

Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease physician for Intermountain Healthcare, said in a news conference Friday, the variant has over 60 mutations and is two to three times more contagious than other variants and is proving to out compete Delta.

“We’re seeing across the country significant increases in case transmission that are now being driven by the omicron variant. Omicron is doubling every two to three days,” Webb said. “It has more than 50 mutations and causes high levels of virus in infected individuals.”

Webb called Omicron the “Houdini of COVID variants,” because it has the ability to escape some degree of immunity.

He also said early on, data from South Africa gave some hope the variant didn’t cause severe illness. However, hospitalization rates in that country and the UK has shot up which demonstrates the variant doesn’t have lower severity potential than Delta.

“That’s discouraging because the increased contagiousness of this particular virus is sure to increase cases and with increased cases we see increased hospitalizations,” he said.

Webb said even though Omicron has been found in Utah, the state still has a couple of weeks to prepare for it to hit hard.

“It’s really important for people to understand their risks. If you aren’t vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you are eligible for a booster, get your booster. If you get the Omicron variant and are vaccinated, you will be less likely to be hospitalized, on a ventilator or die,” he said. “We’re seeing adults in their 30s and 40s in the hospital, many of them have not been vaccinated or have other medical problems.”

Webb said people with three forms of immunity tend to do better with COVID-19. That includes people who have been previously infected and have two vaccinations or people who have had two vaccinations and a booster.

“If you’ve had those three experiences, that will significantly increase your immune system’s ability to protect against another infection,” he said.

With the holidays less than a week away, Webb said people who have any kind of respiratory symptoms should stay home. He said not only is COVID-19 circulating, but influenza, RSV and pneumonia are in the community right now as well, which will put more strain on hospital systems.

Treatments for omicron are also lower than with other variants. Out of the three monoclonal antibody treatments, two are ineffective against omicron. The one that seems to work the best is in shortage.

“We have a couple of weeks to prepare for omicron and it’s very important that we as a community be careful and cautious,” Webb said. “Wear your mask, social distance and stay home if you’re sick.”

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