Omicron COVID variant causing concern

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 4:43 PM EST
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NEW YORK, New York (WWNY) - How contagious is it and how serious are its symptoms? Those are key questions still unanswered about the new omicron COVID variant.

Some initial indications are that it may be more contagious than other variants, but possibly lead to less severe COVID cases.

“The unvaccinated tend to be the ones more severely affected. Vaccinated individuals can still get a breakthrough infection, but they tend not to be hospitalized or sick,” said Dr. Joseph Wetterhahn, medical director, Samaritan Family Health Network.

On Monday, Governor Kathy Hochul said the omicron variant that first turned up in South Africa has not been found yet in New York state.

She said that she is also waiting for answers.

“We’ll know very soon about whether the vaccines we have in people’s arms right now and the booster shots, whether or not they’ll resist this new variant. If that ends up being no and basically no one is protected, which I don’t see happening, but if we get that kind of news, at that time we’ll have to take actions,” she said.

Hochul released numbers showing that 80.5 percent of New Yorkers age 18 and older are fully vaccinated.

Also, the north county is the third highest among 10 regions of the state when it comes to COVID cases per 100,000 people.

Available hospital beds is at 15 percent in the north country - higher than most other regions of the state.

If omicron hits the region like the delta variant did, the number of available hospital beds in the region could become a concern.

“We’re in a very difficult position in the north country right now. We have one of the highest positivity rates in the state. Our rate is 10-times higher than New York City,” said Dr. Wetternhan.

“We’re going to be targeted and look at specific regions and do whatever we can to protect access to critical health services,” said Hochul.

While neither the country nor the state have seen their first case of the omicron variant, there are two cases of the variant in Ottawa, fewer than 100 miles from Massena.

Could it cause a border shutdown, weeks after it opened back up? On Monday, President Joe Biden said he doesn’t anticipate any more travel restrictions. Governor Hochul also addressed it in her statements Monday.

“We want to bring our Canadian friends in. They come with restrictions. They are vaccinated to come here so, we hope that as we welcome our neighbors, they will not be bringing any unwanted guests with them,” she said.

Last Friday, Hochul declared a state of emergency to prepare for, and attempt to avoid, the new variant. Along with that executive order, the Department of Health is allowed to limit non-essential surgeries and procedures for hospitals at limited capacity.

Dr. Wetterhahn says we are much better suited to combat this variant as long as people keep taking precautions like getting vaccinated and getting their boosters.

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