OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The first cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed in Nebraska and at least one doctor at Nebraska Medicine believes it will become the dominant strain of COVID-19 soon.
The Department of Health and Human Services, The Nebraska Public Health Solutions District and Nebraska Public Health Laboratory detected six cases among people in the southeast part of the state.
Here is what we know:
- Officials say the first case is likely a person exposed during a trip to Nigeria.
- After they returned on Nov. 23, they became symptomatic the next day.
- The five other people who became infected were likely exposed through household contact with the first person.
- Health officials say only one of the six people are vaccinated, but none of them have required hospitalization.
Critical care physician Dr. Brian Boer at Nebraska Medicine says it is now just a matter of time before omicron becomes the dominant strain and hits the Omaha metro.
"It will probably follow similar patterns to other variants, like when delta showed up it was a matter of days to weeks before it just kind of took over as the prominent strain; and I have no doubts that this new variant will do the same thing," said Dr. Boer.
Doctors in the ICU are preparing for even more patients, adding to an already burdened health care system.
Dr. Boer said, "We're just kind of ramping up as best we can, considering we're always sort of running lean in that capacity. So, we expect that even if we see a slight decrease in the current uptrend, it'll probably uptrend again from this new variant."
Boer says he understands the desire to get back to normal, but it's all a matter of people doing one thing.
"I'm like everybody else. I want to go out and partake in the usual activities with my social life, go about my life and not be hiding from everybody and everything. And I think the easiest way to make that happen, again and again, is by getting vaccinated," said Boer.
Nebraska DHHS agrees. They say that unvaccinated Nebraskans are filling up hospitals at a 10 times higher rate than vaccinated Nebraskans.
In the first case of omicron, they say the infected person did the right thing.
The individual self-identified travel history, got COVID tested and alerted the local health department.
It's still unknown whether this strain will be more contagious or severe, but it's another worry for those on the front lines.
Boer said, "There's more concern. We haven't seen enough of it to really say for sure long-term how virulent or how quickly it can spread; or how the mortality compares to other strains."
And when it comes to holiday gatherings this doctor has one message:
"I'm a person who just keeps it real. Like, I'm going to get together with my family. I know they're all vaccinated too, and we talk about it. I would avoid any gathering where there's a bunch of unvaccinated people. I mean, that's just common sense at this point," Boer said.
Boer said that another problem is that many people do not know that everyone is now eligible for boosters.
If you're six months past your second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, a booster is recommended.
For Johnson & Johnson, a booster is recommended for those two months out from the single-dose according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.