Advertisement

DHEC, local doctor react to Omicron variant surfacing in the Carolinas

Officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control say the best...
Officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control say the best defense against the variant continues to be vaccines and boosters.(WIS)
Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 2:24 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is now officially in the Carolinas. North Carolina public health officials announced the first confirmed case of the variant on Friday.

RELATED | ‘We know it is here’: Positive test for omicron variant confirmed in Mecklenburg County, health officials say

Officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control say the best defense against the variant continues to be vaccines and boosters.

They also confirmed that as of Friday evening, the Omicron variant has not yet been detected in South Carolina.

However, Dr. Edwin Hayes, an infectious disease physician at Prisma Health, said it may already be in the state.

“We are constantly following this virus,” he said. “We’re not predicting where it goes, we’re catching up with it. And what we’re seeing in charlotte is a bellwether of that.”

Mecklenburg County Public Health officials confirmed that the first case was found a UNC Charlotte student who had traveled outside the state for Thanksgiving, was fully vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms.

“I would think the vaccine has helped and they’ve recovered,” Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said. “And we’re grateful for that.”

DHEC says its Public Health Laboratory and several private labs in the state have been monitoring and testing samples for Omicron for several weeks. To this point, it has not yet been identified in South Carolina.

“It’s very reasonable to assume that it’s a couple steps ahead epidemiologically, and that it’s very likely already here,” Hayes said.

Hayes said that the preliminary data shows that while Omicron looks to be highly contagious, it may result in less severe illness.

He added that there appears to be more of an issue with reinfection for those who’ve had COVID in the past, though.

“It does seem to be a less severe disease, at least in the individuals that we’ve seen it in so far,” he said. “Now these are early days.”

Hayes said Omicron should be manageable, but some prior treatments may not prove to be as effective against this variant.

“We’re losing a safety net with some of our treatments,” he said. “A lot of the monoclonal antibodies that were aimed towards a specific target on the spike protein of the virus aren’t going to work as well or potentially at all when that spike protein has changed significantly.”

DHEC and local doctors agree that one of the best tools to fight COVID remains getting vaccinated.

RELATED | Omicron variant has some Midlands residents rushing to get boosters

“We need a lot more data to speak confidently about the efficacy of the vaccines against the Omicron variant,” he said. “It still looks like there’s reasonable protection.”

Hayes also said that hand hygiene may be even more important with Omicron than other variants as there’s potential for it to be contracted from surfaces more easily.

DHEC is encouraging all those eligible in the 16 and 17-year-old age group to get booster shots following FDA authorization earlier this week. For more information on where to final local vaccine clinics near you, state health officials say to check out DHEC’s vaccine locator.

Copyright 2021 WIS. All rights reserved.

Notice a spelling or grammar error in this article? Click or tap here to report it. Please include the article’s headline.