STATEWIDE — Recently it was announced that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus has been detected.
SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529, also known as the Omicron variant, was classified and noted as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 26, 2021. The first reported cases by WHO were noted in South Africa. Upon identifying the variant, the South African government shared its findings with the WHO, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As of the publication of this article, the CDC reports that there have not been any cases associated with the Omicron variant in the United States.
In a release from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), it states that cases of the variant are expected to emerge and may soon be detected in not just the United States, but also in the Commonwealth. The VDH states that it will continue to work in conjunction with the CDC and in partnership with the Department of General Services’ Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS), the Commonwealth’s public health laboratory, to actively monitor samples for the Omicron variant.
“In Virginia, we are fortunate to have a robust genetic sequencing program to determine quickly whether variants of concern are circulating in our communities,” said DCLS Director Dr. Denise Toney, Ph.D. (HCLD) in a Nov. 29, 2021 VDH release. “Our network of laboratories throughout the Commonwealth is committed to sequencing as many private samples as possible.”
According to the WHO, it is not yet clear the transmissibility nor the severity of the disease as compared to the dominant strains of COVID-19, including the Delta variant. Additionally, it is uncertain the efficacy of current vaccines in reducing the risk of severe disease with this variant.
“Once again, we see how unpredictable viruses can be. Viruses change and mutate all the time, and as we learn more about this new variant, we need to continue taking precautions to reduce infections,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “We all want this pandemic to end. Please, if you haven’t been vaccinated already and are eligible, get vaccinated. And if you are eligible for a booster, please get your booster as soon as you can. Please continue to do those things that we know can help reduce virus transmission, such as wearing a face mask, social distancing, frequent hand washing, staying home if you are sick, and getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms or if you have had a known exposure to someone with COVID-19.”
The VDH cautions that the level of transmission in Virginia overall remains high. The department urges Virginians to receive the full regiment of available vaccinations for those eligible, stating that it is the most important tool in fighting the ongoing pandemic. Those ages 5 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine in Virginia. Additionally, it is recommended that those ages 18 years and older receive a booster shot of the vaccine.
VDH also urges Virginians to continue to wear facial coverings while in indoor spaces in areas where the transmission level is considered substantial or high. Additionally, those who may suspect exposure to the COVID-19 virus or are having symptoms are urged to stay home and get tested.
To learn more or schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine, please visit the website for Vaccinate Virginia. Additionally, WYDaily continues to publish its COVID-19 Tracker each Tuesday for updated weekly data as to how COVID-19 is impacting the Historic Triangle.