DES MOINES, Iowa — The omicron variant of the coronavirus has not been confirmed in the United States yet, but local doctors are preparing.
There is a lot to be learned about how transmissible the new variant is. It was first identified in South Africa, and there are confirmed cases in Europe and Canada. However, doctors in the metro do not want to sound the alarm just yet.
“I think the best way to think about it is that we should be concerned, but we shouldn’t necessarily panic,” said Dr. Ravi Vemuri, the medical director of infection prevention at MercyOne Des Moines.
Vemuri said that people should be taking necessary precautions like wearing a mask in crowded, public areas. Another doctor thinks that it is time for people to take accountability.
“There are still a lot of unknowns, so it is a little bit premature for me to say it is time to panic,” said Dr. Austin Baeth, an internal medicine physician at UnityPoint clinic. “But it is certainly time for us to take this much more seriously than I think what the average Iowan has been doing.”
It is not yet known how well the vaccines protect against the variant. It will take time and testing to determine how effective the vaccines are and how lethal the variant is in the first place.
“How contagious is it and what severity of illness does it cause,” said Baeth. “It appears that the omicron variant is contagious. We just don’t know yet if it is more contagious than the previous variant.”
Baeth also added that there is not enough research to determine whether or not it causes severe illness. But both doctors agree that the best way to protect yourself for the time being is receiving a vaccination.
“The best thing that anyone can do to protect themselves potentially about being exposed to this variant is get fully vaccinated,” said Vemuri. “If you are fully vaccinated and you are eligible, get a booster.”
Those who are fully vaccinated and plan to see family members over the holidays should get a PCR COVID-19 test, according to Vemuri. That is the best way to detect the omicron variant, as rapid testing is not as efficient in detection.