By Katrina Elsken
Lake Okeechobee News
A new variant of the COVID-19 virus is of special concern according the to the World Health Organization (WHO). The COVID-19 Omicron variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on Nov. 24. The first known confirmed omicron infection was on Nov. 9.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern (VOCs). The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa,” stated a WHO Nov. 26 press release. The omicron variant appears to spread faster than the previous variants and to be more likely reinfect those who already survived one bout of covid.
According to WHO, it will take weeks to determine how effective the vaccines currently in use will be for the omicron variant.
The World Health Organization reminds individuals “to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.”
Since Nov. 9, non-citizen travelers to the United States have been required to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to fly to the U.S.
Starting Nov. 29, the United States will restrict travel for non-citizens from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. In a Nov. 26 statement announcing the travel ban, President Joe Biden encouraged already immunized Americans to get their booster shots, and parents to take advantage of the new vaccine doses available for children age 5 and older.
Immigrants to the United States are required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as part of their medical exam prior to being issued a visa. The Immigration and Nationality Act specifies the following vaccinations: mumps, measles, rubella, polio, tetanus and diphtheria toxoids, pertussis, Haemophilius influenza type B, and Hepatitis B. The CDC requires the following additional vaccines for immigration purposes: Varicella, influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia, Rotavirus, Hepatitis A, meningococcal, and COVID-19.
In addition to South Africa, the omicron variant has been reported in Botswana, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong.
While the omicron variant has not yet been detected in the United States, some national health officials believe it is inevitable as the omicron variant was likely circulating in other countries before restrictions on foreign air travel to the United States went into effect.
“Right now, what we have is we have the window into the mutations that are in this new variant. And they are troublesome in the fact that there are about 32 or more variants in that very important spike protein of the virus, which is the business end of the virus,” Dr. Anthony Fauci explained in a Nov, 28 intervew on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“There are about ten or more of these mutations that are on that part of the virus, we call it the receptor binding domain, that actually binds to the cells in your nasopharynx and in your lung,” Fauci explaied.
“In other words, the profile of the mutations strongly suggest that it’s going to have an advantage in transmissibility and that it might evade immune protection that you would get, for example, from a monoclonal antibody or from the convalescent serum after a person’s been infected, and possibly even against some of the vaccine-induced antibodies.”
The COVID-19 virus has been responsible for more than 773,000 deaths in the United States since the start of the pandemic, including more than 60,000 deaths in Florida. Worldwide, the virus has claimed more than 5 million lives.
The Florida Department of Health website for COVID-19 data on new case positivity and vaccination rates in the state has not been updated since Nov. 18.
For the seven-day period ending Nov. 25, Hendry and Glades counties has no new covid-related hospitalizations according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Okeechobee County had two new covid-related hospitalizations. Martin County had five new covid hospitalizations. Palm Beach County had 63 new covid hospitalizations. Collier County had 29 new covid hospitalizations.
According to the CDC, the unvaccinated not only have an increased risk of contracting the virus but are 14 times more likely to die of covid if they contract the disease.