Heading into the new year with a new variant

Experts are keeping a close eye on new coronavirus cases in the US as the new omicron variant is labeled as a variant of concern

The new B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant, named omicron, was classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26, 2021. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Convention no cases have been identified in the U.S. to date. However, Dr. Avish Nagpal, Infectious Disease Specialist at Fargo’s Sanford hospital told Valley News it’s likely already here and just hasn’t been detected yet. 

“I think we just need to give it some time for our scientists to conduct some tests in the lab and study epidemiological trends, and I think we are going to be ok,” Nagpal told Valley News.

Omicron has not yet been deemed as more transmissible compared to other variants. South Africa is seeing their positive coronavirus case count rise in areas, but it is unclear if it is the omicron variant or other factors, according to WHO.

Like the delta variant, omicron also carries a mutation called D614G, which appears to help the virus better attach to the cells it infects. Scientists will keep their eye on the number of new mutations to determine how it may affect the immune system.

“The number of mutations per se does not mean that the new variant will cause any problems; although it may make it more likely to look different to the immune system,” Dr. Peter English, former chair of the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said in a statement.

Because of the way vaccines are made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and other companies, a change in the spike protein that makes a virus less recognizable to immune system proteins and cells stimulated by a vaccine could be a problem, according to CNN.

Whether or not omicron causes more severe symptoms compared to infections with other variants is unclear. Hospitalizations have increased in South Africa, but WHO says this could be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected rather than a result of specific infections with the new variant. 

“The most predominant clinical complaint is severe fatigue for one or two days, with then the headache and the body aches and pain,” Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of the South African Medical Association, told CNN.

Researchers are waiting to see if breakthrough infections are caused by omicron rather than other variants, and how much protection the vaccine provides. 

The CDC is closely monitoring variants and expects to identify omicron quickly if it emerges in the U.S. 

“We are grateful to the South African government and its scientists who have openly communicated with the global scientific community and continue to share information about this variant with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CDC,” writes the CDC. “We are working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more about this variant, as we continue to monitor its path.”

The nation should continue to follow guidelines recommended by the CDC to prevent spreading of the variant from happening.

NDSU students can visit the Student Health Service’s page to educate themselves on how to stay safe on and off campus. Masks are still required in the classrooms and when visiting the Student Health Service Center on campus. 

Students and faculty are still encouraged to receive the vaccine and can schedule an appointment by following the steps on the Student Health Service page for the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccinations.

The university has also extended the vaccine incentive until Jan. 4, 2022. Students can visit the Student Health Service page to learn more details on how to receive their $100 incentive. 

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