Where has the new covid-19 Omicron variant been detected? What are the symptoms?
A new covid-19 variant has experts worried as it is believed to already be spreading in the United States. What are the symptoms? Is it more dangerous?
Public health experts are warning that it is very likely that a new variant, Omicron, could already be circulating in the United States. Like the Delta variant, this new strain has genetic mutations that could make it more transmissible.
The World Health Organization announced Friday that it would classify Omicron as a "Variant of Concern."
What is a Variant of Concern?
The World Health Organization describes a Variant of Concern if it 'has been demonstrated to be associated with one or more of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance:
- increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; OR
- increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; OR
- decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics'
Source: World Health Organization
When making the announcement the WHO said that it was updating its classification from Variant of Interest to Variant of Concern because "this variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa."
However, the organization also mentioned that diagnostic tests were still able to pick up the variant. At this point, the US Centers for Disease Control has yet to even list Omnicron within its own variant classifications.
What do we know so far?
Some experts believe that the variant originated in South Africa and have reported that those most impacted by it have been young unvaccinated people. Even those who had been previously infected faced a risk from this new variant. However, the level of infection among those who were vaccinated is unknown.
What countries will be included in President Biden's travel ban?
- South Africa
The country most impacted by Omicron has been South Africa, which has a relatively low vaccination rate, making it easy for the virus to move through the population at a more rapid pace.
Where is Omicron spreading?
MSNBC has reported that the variant has already been detected in Belgium, Israel, and Hong Kong.
How effective are vaccines?
Pfizer and Moderna are currently conducting studies to answer this question in relation to their own vaccines. On 26 November, MSNBC medical contributor Dr. Vin Gupta said that the information from the two companies should be available in early to mid-December.
What steps is the federal government taking to slow the spread?
On 26 November, President Biden announced that his administration would be implementing a travel ban from seven African countries in light of the news from the World Health Organization. The President described the move as "precautionary," saying it would take effect on 29 November.
Early in the pandemic, Democrats bashed then-President Donald Trump for implementing a travel ban. The fact that the Biden administration is now making the same move, has raised many questions from experts and the media. Many experts believe it is likely the variant is already spreading in the US and question the efficacy of such a move.
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