BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Canada has reported its first two cases of the newly identified COVID-19 variant as the CDC strengthens recommendations for booster doses of coronavirus vaccines.
“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
Research is underway to learn more about Omicron, which has been named a variant of concern by the World Health Organization because it is potentially more transmissible than other variants.
“It might be more transmissible but people in South Africa, where this was first identified, they aren’t seeing very severe infections. The infections appear to be pretty mild,” said Dr. Christopher Thompson, an associate professor of biology at Loyola University Maryland. “It’s worrisome enough that we want to keep an eye on it but we don’t have any good data on how bad or not bad it’s going to be."
Thompson said variants happen all the time. They are created when the virus mutates in people who become infected. But most never become concerning.
“Viruses are really bad at replicating themselves. They make tons and tons of mistakes and most of the time those mistakes end up with a virus that can’t spread well at all, but in some cases, it’s a lucky mistake that makes the virus spread better or cause more severe disease. When we start noticing those in a population, that’s when they’re termed a variant of concern,” said Thompson.
Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan got a briefing about it from the state’s COVID-19 Response Team.
He said they are closely monitoring the situation and will provide updates when needed.
“Our state continues to have one of the most robust testing surveillance systems in the country to identify and track variants,” said Hogan.
Even still, Thompson thinks, because of testing constraints, the virus is already here.
“We can only figure out what variant it is if someone gets a PCR test and even then it’s gonna take about two weeks before we know which variant it is,” said Thompson.
He said while we don’t know the impact, if any, it will have, it’s a reminder to stay vigilant.
“Wear your mask that covers your mouth and nose if you’re out in public. Get vaccinated if you’re not. Get the booster if you haven’t,” said Thompson.
Hogan echoed that call, asking people to go back to the things that helped us get out of the lock downs, because he does not want to shut down the economy.
“I think people kind of were starting to feel a little bit complacent, like, ah, you know, this thing is going away. It's not going away. It's going to continue to be with us and these variants continue to mutate. This is a really scary one,” said Hogan.
The CDC recommends all adults should get boosted six months after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna's vaccine or two months after the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Starting Monday, the U.S. is temporarily barring visitors from South Africa and seven other countries. President Joe Biden said the degree of the variants spread will determine whether more travel restrictions are necessary.