New variant raises concern for local health officials

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 7:15 PM CST
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - Southwest Oklahoma health experts are giving their insight on the newly discovered Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Although, there aren’t any confirmed cases in the U.S. at this time.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health’s public health lab is using genomic sequencing to ensure that the variant hasn’t made its way into Oklahoma, and to know when it does.

“We’ve taken due diligence to ensure that we can keep a good watch on variants that might be circulating in Oklahoma. We certainly communicate with CDC, and we certainly communicate with other states as well do ensure that we are all reporting the same way and that and doing out due diligence to track emerging variants,” State Epidemiologist Jolianna Stone said.

The sequencing is done after a person tests positive for COVID.

Stone said the process to identify what strain of COVID a person has can take up to a week or longer.

“A certain percentage of those samples get sent to our public health lab. At that point in time those positives under go a process of extraction, and looking at the different genes in that particular sample, and it goes through analyzer, and then this analyzer then says it looks very similar to or matches this particular sequence,” Stone said.

With no timeline on when the variant may reach the states and concerns surrounding a rise in cases and hospitalizations, Regional Director Brandie Combs said people need to continue to do their part to fight the spread.

“We’ve said it over and we’ve said it for two years now. Vaccines are effective, vaccines are working. I think it’s important that we are clear when we say vaccines are working, that does not mean it’s necessarily going to prevent you from getting COVID, but it is surely proving to have a better outcome on someone who is hospitalized,” Combs said.

She said people who are fully vaccinated should take the next steps and consider getting their booster shot, if they haven’t already.

“Vaccines don’t last forever, their effectiveness doesn’t last forever. So, as it wanes your protection decreases. So, that booster shot provides that extra boost protection against any virus that you make come in contact with or exposed too,” Combs said.

People are asked to get their booster shot six months after being fully vaccinated. If someone is at high risk of catching COVID, they should get their booster after one month.

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