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Utah health officials give update on Omicron COVID variant

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The first Omicron case of COVID-19 has just been confirmed in California. While there are no confirmed cases yet in Utah, state health officials spoke on Tuesday, about what is known and what can be expected in the coming weeks. 

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is only one week old, meaning health care workers still don’t know much about it. Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, Intermountain Healthcare Infectious Disease Physician said the Omicron variant has 50 mutations on its genome where Delta had about nine.

“Those mutations potentially could lead to different characteristics of the virus. It could lead to being more contagious, or less contagious, or it could lead to having less effect in terms of vaccine-induced immunity, or it could cause more severe disease or less severe disease,” said Dr. Stenehjem. “And those are all things that we have yet to determine, but we'll be looking at very, very closely.”

Omicron was identified in South Africa, an area that has been seeing a spike in COVID cases and low vaccination rates. About 24% of South Africa’s population is vaccinates, where in Utah that number is over 60%.

Of all of South Africa’s cases, Omicron is the dominant strain, and officials are starting to see it pop up in other areas of the world including the US.  

“Now's the time for us to really dig in,” said Dr. Stenehjem.  Learn about it, try to understand what do these mutations mean, if anything, and see how this is really going to impact us here in the US and in the state of Utah”

Researchers are working on finding more information on this variant and the effects it will have. Stenehjem said we will know more within the next two weeks.

“The other part is that we shouldn't lose sight of what's happening to us right now in Utah,” said Dr. Stenehjem. “Right now, in Utah, Omicron is not affecting us- Delta is affecting us. This is where our situation is right now and where we need to be focused on.”

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