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The Omicron Variant in Colorado: an overview

As the news continues to cover the Covid19 pandemic, a new name has appeared on people’s screens: the new Omicron variant. Keep reading to have questions about the Omicron Variant answered.

So, what is the Omicron variant?

The Omicron variant is a new variant of Covid-19 that was discovered in South Africa a few weeks ago. On November 26th, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated it as a variant of concern. It was discovered by genetic sequencing and contains a large number of mutations, including mutations in the spike protein which could help the virus evade the immune system. Health officials and epidemiologists are continuing their research to learn more about this new variant and the health risks it could impose, especially given the explosive number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa. Colorado currently has two diagnosed cases.

What are some concerns surrounding the variant?

The variant has a high number of mutations in the spike protein, which could affect the severity of the disease, how fast it spreads, and whether current vaccines will be effective against this variant. Scientists and researchers are studying the trends in how it spreads in South Africa and globally to get a better understanding of the transmitability. While genome sequencing is needed to confirm if it is an Omicron case, PCR testing can pick up a difference in the variant as opposed to the Delta variant. How the variant spreads may depend on factors such as vaccination rates and previous infection rates. As new research continues to come out, scientists will have a better understanding of certain risks and the best measures to ensure safety for the community.

What does testing look like?

Colorado’s PCR tests look at the fragments of the virus’ genetic code by targeting three genetic sites. One of the three genes codes for the spike protein. Because the Omicron's spike protein is mutated, this genetic test only detects two of three genes, indicating it could be the Omicron variant. Full genetic testing will then allow confirmation of the variant.

What safety measures is Colorado taking?

Part of Colorado’s efforts to look for new variants is testing wastewater. On December 7th, the Omicron variant was detected in Boulder’s wastewater and there is believed to be several cases developed from that (scientists believe it is over one). Continuing to test water is just one method, though. Another method is a sample of positive tests are analyzed and genetically sequenced (about 15% of positive tests so far). Finally, people who are travelling have been getting tested and those who are displaying symptoms or who have been exposed are continuing to be tested. Mask mandates and encouragment to get vaccinated are also among the methods being employed.

Are the vaccines and masks still effective?

Research is still being done on Omicron so it is still unsure on how effective the vaccines are against the new variant. Vaccines will likely continue to protect against severe disease and it is recommended to get a booster dose to protect against the omicrom variant. However, scientists believe that it is highly unlikely that the vaccines will be ineffective as they have proven effective against other variants. Masks are still proving effective and mandates for masks inside buildings will continue to roll out based on data and while waiting for new research to come out.

How can I protect myself and others?

Continue to practice safe measures like hand-washing, mask wearing, distancing, and contact-tracing. Be sure to get fully vaccinated if you have not already done so and encourage others to do so as well; the vaccines have proven effective with other variants. Check to see if you are eligible to receive your booster shot and research updates from reputable sources. Visit our blogs and instagram posts (@coloradoteensforvaccines) for more updates and important information.

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