Newest COVID variant spreads quickly

Highly transmissible.

That’s how scientists and healthcare professionals are describing omicron, the newest variant of COVID.

Due to the highly contagious nature of the variant, the Johnson County Healthcare Center has implemented changes to protect our patients and residents, including staff wearing KN95 masks (as they have multiple layers) for patient interactions.

The Johnson County Healthcare Center also continues to require universal masking for all staff, patients and visitors and encourages eligible members of the public to receive their COVID-19 vaccine and booster.

“The vaccines are doing an excellent job of preventing severe illness and hospitalization,” said Kristina Duarte, infection preventionist and employee health nurse at the Johnson County Healthcare Center. “The breakthrough infections we are seeing are very mild, like a common cold. The data is overwhelming that the vaccines are safe. We, and our community partners, continue to offer vaccines and boosters.”

Studies have found that the omicron variant multiplies faster in certain tissues, but it doesn’t seem to infect cells that are deeper in the lungs as much as previous variants. That means that the shedding is likely to happen faster because in many case studies, omicron is planting itself in people’s noses, not deep in the lungs.

While COVID hospitalizations continue to remain high across the country, data shows that there’s a smaller number of severe cases than with previous variants. The majority of those who are being hospitalized with omicron are unvaccinated or have compromised immune systems.

According to a study from Ontario, Canada, the risk of hospitalization or death was 65% lower in omicron compared to delta cases, and the risk of ICU admission or death was 83% lower.

But healthcare professionals are stressing that the reduced severity of the omicron variant could be offset by how quickly it spreads and caution the public to continue to take precautions, such as proper hand washing and wearing a mask in public places.

The highly contagious nature of the variant will lead to a higher number of cases, Duarte said. The higher number of cases will inevitably lead to a higher number of hospitalized patients, as well as staffing shortages throughout the community and school absenteeism.

“Vaccines continue to be the best way to protect our community’s limited resources,” Duarte said.

The Family Medical Center offers COVID-19 vaccines and boosters every Tuesday at the clinic. Call 307-684-2228 to schedule a vaccine or booster.


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