Wash hands, mask, socially distance to protect against new COVID-19 variant, Valley officials say

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 9:47 PM EST
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - No cases of the Omicron Variant have been confirmed in the United States, but local health officials say it’s possible the variant is present.

The World Health Organization designated Omicron as a variant of concern Friday, Nov. 26. However, Omicron hasn’t been designated as a variant of concern in the U.S.

“Given that the Omicron Variant seems to emerged mid-November, it’s possible that the variant is here in the United States, and it’s possible cases will be detected in the future. As of right now, we don’t know of cases in the U.S. or Virginia,” said Jordi Shelton with the Central Shenandoah Health District.

Shelton said a virus makes copies of itself, and sometimes mistakes are made in that process. Those mistakes are mutations.

“A lot of times, new variants emerge during mutation, and they disappear. Other times, new variants can emerge, and they start infecting people, which is what’s happened with the variants we’ve seen of COVID-19 so far,” said Shelton.

Since variants can be different, scientists have to take time to understand each one. Now, they’re investigating Omicron.

Shelton said they’ll look into the genetic makeup of the virus, which will help them understand how the virus spreads, how severe cases are, whether or not tests can detect it, and if vaccines and treatments can combat the mutation.

“Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting research to better understand it. We don’t know if it is more transmissible or if it’s more severe disease. Right now, health officials throughout the country are monitoring to see if we can better understand it,” Shelton said.

Although there isn’t much information available, Shelton said continuing with health practices like handwashing, social distancing and masking will help to keep you healthy.

“Everyone should continue to keep up good prevention practices to protect themselves and travelers needs to be mindful to follow the CDC’s and VDH’s travel recommendations,” Shelton said.

Shelton said the Central Shenandoah Health District will continue to monitor the variant.

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