Initial reports over the weekend announcing the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant in South Africa led to quick efforts by the Biden administration to restrict travel to the United States from South Africa and seven other countries in the region.
The Fresno County Health Department issued a warning Monday classifying the new Omicron mutation as a variant of concern due to the potential for increased contagiousness and possible increased virulence.
Is New Variant a Cause for Concern?
According to health officials, the variant’s increased contagiousness means it can spread from one person to another quite easily, while it’s virulence means it has a greater potential to make people sick and could cause increased hospitalizations.
Little is yet known about the potential risks surrounding this new variant and Fresno County health officials say they are continuing to monitor the situation in concert with the California Department of Public Health.
“We are still learning about the Omicron variant and will be communicating with the public as information becomes available,” says Dr. Rais Vohra, interim health officer. “Regardless of variant, we can all make the community safer if we stick to the basics – use a mask, plan your activities safely, and get your vaccines for COVID-19 and the flu to protect yourself and your family.”
On Monday, President Joe Biden called the new variant a cause for concern but “not a cause for panic.”
“When omicron arrives, and it will,” Biden said, “America will face this new threat just as we’ve faced those that have come before it.”
How You Can Protect Yourself
With colder weather arriving and upcoming holidays on the horizon, health officials encourage residents to continue maintaining safe COVID-19 preventative practices.
This includes staying home if you are sick, testing right away, practicing good hand hygiene, and keeping a few feet away from others when out shopping or in public spaces.
Officials are also reiterating the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccination as well as a booster if eligible, and a flu shot.
COVID-19 vaccinations are now approved for anyone over the age of five, while the influenza vaccine is approved for anyone over the age of six months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently broadened its recommendation for COVID-19 booster shots to include all adults because of the new variant.
“Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after their initial J&J vaccine,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.