Local health experts applauded the quick identification of the Omicron variant and advised caution for the approaching flu season in a COVID-19 update for the News-Press.
While there are diverse reactions upon the announcement by world leaders, it is generally understood by health officials that only time will tell the severity of the new strain.
“We know very little,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer, told the News-Press.
Dr. Ansorg continued to explain the efficacy of vaccines and natural immunity will not be clear for another two to three weeks.
“What we do know is that this apparently has the capacity to outpace the Delta variant,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press. “It is more transmissible, which is why health officials are watching this so closely.”
Dr. Ansorg noted the 61 passengers in flights from South Africa to the Netherlands who tested positive with the omicron variant.
Despite this worrying statistic, Cottage Health Chair of Infectious Disease Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons acknowledged how quickly the new variant was located.
“Our system to locate variants seems to be working well,” Dr. Fitzgibbons told the News-Press. “It’s important to remember we’re in a far better position than we’ve ever been.”
Dr. Fitzgibbons noted that health care officials are far better prepared for omicron versus other variants like delta which heavily disrupted areas in India before being identified.
“For the first time in this pandemic, we are aware of this variant as it’s starting to cause an increase in cases,” Dr. Fitzgibbons told the News-Press. “We need to remember that’s a very positive thing.”
In regard to international travel restrictions after the variant was identified, Dr. Ansorg advised international travelers to get tested 3-5 days after arriving home regardless of vaccination status.
He also advised international travelers to quarantine for seven days.
Both doctors shared similar concerns as this variant was announced at the forefront of flu season.
Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press, “This time of year is concerning for all other types of viruses that cause flu-like symptoms,” while Dr. Fitzgibbons extrapolated, “We need to be aware of the possibility that a more infectious strain will be with us this flu season.”
However, Dr. Ansorg reiterated that standard practices which prevent the spread of COVID-19 additionally protect against influenza.
He also encouraged people to get tested, “at the first sign or symptom,” as COVID-19 tests also test for influenza which traditionally dominate the upcoming season.
Other than abiding by widely regarded best practices like social distancing and masks, both doctors highly recommend getting vaccinated as flu season approaches.
“It’s the best advice we can give at this moment,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press.
Dr. Fitzgibbons told the News-Press, “Keeping in mind the threat from both COVID-19 and from influenza, a strong recommendation is to be sure that you have all the vaccine protection you need to prevent infection.”