Southern Tier Prepares for Omicron COVID-19 Variant

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ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – As the world scrambles to contain cases of Omicron, the latest COVID-19 variant recognized by the World Organization of Health, local health officials are following in the footsteps of President Biden, urging residents in the Twin Tiers to remain calm but vigilant.

“The variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” President Biden said on Monday. “We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day.”

The WHO has classified the Omicron variant as “one of concern” on the global scale.

“What makes this particular variant concerning is that it contains a higher number of mutations than previously seen with the other variants,” Arnot Health Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Justin Nistico said. “There’s concern for high levels of reinfection in people who’ve already had the virus.”

Health experts emphasize that the reason more mutations continue to pop up is largely because of unvaccinated populations.

“The makeup of it is relatively unstable and as it infects people,” Dr. Richard Terry, Dean of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, said. “It changes a little bit and alters. All it [the virus] wants to do is stay alive, so it finds ways in different hosts to stay alive and be more transmissible.”

The WHO admits that there’s a lot of things they don’t know about the new variant, though data from South Africa indicates the strain is highly contagious. At this time, there is no indication the strain is deadlier.

It’s also unclear if the strain is less effective against the three COVID-19 vaccines. President Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said there’s a good chance the vaccines will continue to provide a high level of protection against severe illness.

As of Monday, no Omicron cases have been detected in New York State, though Governor Kathy says New York is preparing. She signed an executive order allowing the State Department of Health to limit “non-essential” procedures at hospitals struggling with capacity issues.

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