Omicron: Different variant, same advice from health experts so far – get vaccinated, wear a mask

Why you should be concerned about the spread of the omicron variant.

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The world continues to monitor the omicron variant – now found in at least 10 U.S. states and 40 countries.

The coronavirus variant has been found so far in Minnesota, Colorado, California, New York, Nebraska, Missouri, Maryland, Utah, Pennsylvania and Hawaii. The delta variant is still dominant in the U.S. where the nation’s seven-day daily average of COVID-19 cases is 86,400, hospital admissions are 6,300 a day and deaths are at about 860 per day, according to White House health officials.

Researchers are working to learn whether omicron is more transmissible and more severe than delta and other variants and how the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters will perform, according to the World Health Organization and health experts.

“I know that the news is focused on omicron, but we should remember that 99.9% of cases in the country right now are from the delta variant,” said Dr. Rachelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during Friday’s press briefing by the White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team.

Health experts urged the public to get vaccinated, wear masks, wash their hands, increase ventilation, physical distance and get tested for COVID-19. On the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday, with the holiday season now in full swing and winter fast approaching, medical professionals remain guarded.

“My advice is to limit the in-person gathering to just one or two extra households, make sure everyone who is eligible is vaccinated,” said Dr. Taison Bell, an assistant professor of medicine in the divisions of Infectious Diseases and International Health and Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Virginia, in an email. “Reconsider gathering if there is anyone high risk of severe disease.”

Before Thanksgiving, Bell told Yahoo Finance in an interview that pockets of “largely unvaccinated or poorly vaccinated populations” will contribute to rising cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

“This is not what we wanted to see going into the winter,” Bell said.

Scientists in South Africa first detected the variant on Nov. 25. According to the CDC, the omicron variant was detected in the U.S. in a traveler on Dec. 1, who had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22. The person has mild symptoms, CDC officials stated in a press release. The WHO first classified omicron, which has more mutations than the delta variant, as a variant of concern and gave it that name on Nov. 30.

President Joe Biden on Thursday laid out additional plans to fight the pandemic, which include administering booster shots to 100 million Americans, helping parents get their children vaccinated, making at-home tests free to Americans, increasing surge response teams to help communities with rising cases and accelerating efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world and strengthening travel rules for people coming into the U.S.

Blacks & COVID-19

According to the CDC, 48 million Americans so far have tested positive for COVID-19, and 781,963 Americans have died from the virus.

Nationally, Blacks are twice as likely as whites to die of COVID-19 and 2.6 times more likely to be hospitalized, according to Nov. 22 data from the CDC. A variety of reasons, including systemic racism and lack of access to health care, factor into the disparities, health officials have said. According to provisional death counts on Dec. 1, by the National Center for Health Statistics, 115,730 Black Americans have died of COVID-19.

In Iowa, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on rise – with data from the state’s coronavirus website Friday showing the highest number of hospitalizations this year – 747 Iowans. The majority are unvaccinated, according to the state. The state’s 14-day positivity rate has increased to 11.5%. Testing and COVID-19 deaths in Iowa were down as of Dec. 1, according to the New York Times.

  • Around 203 Black Iowans have died of COVID-19 as of Dec. 3, according to the state’s data. About 7,445 Iowans have died of COVID-19.
  • 70% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated with one dose, according to the CDC. Racial disparities in the vaccination rates have narrowed, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • 48% of Black Iowans are vaccinated with at least one dose, compared to 56% of white Iowans, according to a Dec. 2 KFF analysis.
  • According to Axios, record levels of COVID-19 have been detected recently in Des Moines metro-area sewage.

Former State Representative Wayne Ford, who is a community consultant with Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, said efforts to vaccinate Blacks were highly successful in Des Moines through several partnerships. During COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Corinthian Baptist Church, 1,113 people were vaccinated, with 60% of those identifying as people of color, he said. At a subsequent clinic, 95% returned to receive their second shot, he said.

“So in one day, at one time, we vaccinated more people of color than at any one time in Iowa history,” he said.

Wayne Ford, a community consultant for Broadlawns Medical Center, former Iowa state representative and founder and former executive director of Urban Dreams, received three vaccinations recently for shingles, flu and a COVID-19 booster shot. Photo special to Black Iowa News.

A majority of those eligible also returned to receive their booster shot, he said.

“They came back because we began building community, utilizing their church and talking to people,” Ford said.

Getting a booster shot and a flu shot was also important to Ford – especially since he looked forward to spending time out of state with his young granddaughter.

“I took the booster shot because I wanted to be around my family,” Ford said.

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