The virus infecting the world for the past year has now mutated... again.
But health officials don’t know much about the new variant, creating concern.
RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - As the Delta variant continues to dominate South Dakota’s COVID cases, a new one has appeared.
The Omicron variant was recently discovered in South Africa and has quickly spread to nearby countries, and is now reported in Canada.
As these variant infections grow, officials have little information about them.
“It’s different from the Delta, it has 30 changes to the spike protein compared to only 10 for the Delta and that’s the concern. Some of them are similar to the Delta, what we do not know is it more transmissible and is it going to cause more severe disease,” said Dr. Shankar Kurra, vice president of medical affairs at Monument Health.
New variants of the COVID-19 virus aren’t a surprise, as people travel through open borders, it is nearly impossible to keep “the genie in the bottle”.
But, is the Delta variant, which is easier to spread and causes worse symptoms, the milder strain compared to the new Omicron variant?
“Those are all unanswered questions and really until we know more about it, it’s hard to say what this will really bring to people in our state,” said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of health for South Dakota Department of Health.
Viruses constantly change, creating new variants. Some disappear and some stick around.
Kurra and Malsam-Rysdon say the Omicron variant is probably in the country already, but not reported.
When it eventually comes to South Dakota, the Department of Health plans to continue the precautions stressed at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Certainly there are other things that people could be doing, we can be washing our hands often, staying home if you’re sick, wearing a mask if you can’t stay away from other folks, so those things are all still important,” said Malsam-Rysdon.
And both health officials say the best plan of action is to get vaccinated.
Kurra says vaccines substantially reduce transmission of COVID-19, “It prevents hospitalization, the biggest risk we stand if Omicron were to overtake the Delta variant, that we’ll have more hospitalizations.”
And while people are getting their COVID shot, Malsam-Rysdon advises everyone to get the flu shot too.
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