COVID-19 Update: What We Know About Omicron

Learn More About the Recently Discovered COVID-19 Omicron Variant with Dr. John Brown

What do we need to know about the COVID-19 Omicron variant? It’s a good question and we want to help.

Gritman Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Brown has been following developments related to the new variant. He notes that while Omicron appears significantly more infectious (meaning it transmits more easily from person-to-person) than the recent Delta variant or the original strain of COVID-19, infections from the new variant may be less severe than those from Delta. However, it will take more time for the medical community to have a clearer picture of the severity of Omicron.

“Getting vaccinated and getting boosters as appropriate continue to significantly decrease the incidence of severe COVID-19 disease and hospitalization,” Dr. Brown said. “They remain important components of minimizing the effects of the pandemic and protecting human life. In addition, measures like masks, distancing and other indoor precautions will help decrease the spread, particularly with holiday gatherings approaching.”

“When you combine the vaccine with the other protective measures of masking and social distancing, we clearly have a real chance of saving lives and keeping people healthy while allowing life to go on as it normally would” – Dr. John Brown, Gritman Chief Medical Officer

COVID-safe precautions including masking, hand washing and vaccination are especially important when we are around vulnerable populations such as the elderly and immunocompromised.

Dr. Brown said that while we should expect some Omicron breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals, getting vaccinated and getting a COVID-19 booster appear to significantly decrease the risk of hospitalization. Even unvaccinated individuals who have recovered from a past COVID-19 infection should get vaccinated to add significant protection from the disease.

“When you combine the vaccine with the other protective measures of masking and social distancing, we clearly have a real chance of saving lives and keeping people healthy while allowing life to go on as it normally would,” he said.

Unvaccinated individuals are at the greatest risk. This appears to be true of Omicron and the most recent Delta wave that led to a severe strain on the health care system here in Idaho, including at Gritman Medical Center. During the most recent Delta variant surge at Gritman, about 80% of our COVID-positive inpatients were unvaccinated.

Omicron has already been detected in many states and countries, including Idaho. Gritman Medical Center, in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Idaho’s State Laboratory, participates in a statewide monitoring system to help detect which variants are in circulation. We regularly provide a selection of samples from positive tests collected through Gritman to the State of Idaho for the identification of variants.

Scientists around the globe remain focused on answering critical questions as quickly as possible but accurate and useful research of this nature takes time. We hope to know more about the long-term effects of the Omicron variant in the coming weeks and months.

Additional information is continuously updated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.