Omicron’s arrival could curb recent COVID-19 progress

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Vaccine for omicron variant , could take months, Moderna CEO says.CEO of Moderna Stephane Bancel says it could be months before a vaccine targeting the omicron variant of COVID-19 is made available, CNBC reports.CEO of Moderna Stephane Bancel says it could be months before a vaccine targeting the omicron variant of COVID-19 is made available, CNBC reports.Moderna reportedly expects the variant to be highly infectious, but data remains inconclusive.Mutations of the spike protein of the coronavirus have been linked to higher transmission rates.Mutations of the spike protein of the coronavirus have been linked to higher transmission rates.The World Health Organization says the omicron variant has experienced 30 of these mutations.The World Health Organization says the omicron variant has experienced 30 of these mutations.Experts say these mutations could possibly have a negative impact on the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines.Experts say these mutations could possibly have a negative impact on the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines.Depending on how much it dropped, we might decide on the one hand to give a higher dose of the current vaccine .., Stephane Bancel, CEO Moderna, via CNBC.Depending on how much it dropped, we might decide on the one hand to give a higher dose of the current vaccine .., Stephane Bancel, CEO Moderna, via CNBC.According to CNBC, Pfizer has started to develop its own vaccine to specifically target the omicron strain.According to CNBC, Pfizer has started to develop its own vaccine to specifically target the omicron strain.Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says omicrons' impact on COVID-19 vaccines remains unclear.The company reportedly created a DNA template of the new strain on Nov. 26....we would be able to have the vaccine in less than 100 days, Albert Bourla, CEO Pfizer, via CNBC....we would be able to have the vaccine in less than 100 days, Albert Bourla, CEO Pfizer, via CNBC

Just as COVID-19 case trends dipped into better territory, the swift emergence of the omicron variant raised fresh concerns about where they’ll head in the new year.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm announced this week that laboratory data indicated omicron is already the dominant strain in Minnesota.

ExploreWhy Mayo Clinic says people need to take omicron seriously

The delta variant previously fueled spikes in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths dating back to July. Initial data from countries hit by omicron suggest it’s more contagious but milder than delta, at least for vaccinated populations.

With intensive care units at Mayo Clinic Health System and other hospitals full or close to it already, any new wave from omicron in the coming weeks could cause further strain.

“The quick rise of the omicron variant underscores the importance of everyone taking steps to slow its spread so we don’t overwhelm our already stressed health care system,” Malcolm said in her Wednesday statement.

Those steps include getting vaccinated, boosted, tested and wearing a mask indoors in public places.

Mayo Clinic Health System continues to encourage the same measures as it deals with an upward trend in COVID-19 intensive care cases. The number of unvaccinated patients in intensive care is five to six times higher than vaccinated patients, according to a statement from Mayo Clinic.

ExploreWhat you need to know about omicron and COVID boosters

“As with other hospitals, ICUs at Mayo Clinic hospitals continue to be full,” the statement read. “ICU numbers fluctuate from day to day, but there has been an upward trend in the COVID-19 ICU census.”

Mayo Clinic in Rochester was treating 80 to 100 COVID-19 patients as of earlier this week. Its southwestern Minnesota health system, which includes Mankato’s hospital, was treating about 43 COVID-19 patients on top of patients requiring other hospital care.

Omicron’s arrival comes amid otherwise encouraging recent COVID-19 case trends in south-central Minnesota. Case totals were down this week, as were the rates of positive tests in area counties.

The nine-county region combined for about 9% of tests coming back positive this week, down from 10.1% during the prior week. Nicollet County even came somewhat close to dipping below the recommended 5% threshold, dropping from about 8% to 5.9%.

ExplorePresident Biden pledges 500 million free COVID-19 tests to counter omicron

Watonwan and Faribault counties, in contrast, had two of the five biggest increases in positivity rates statewide. It was partly related to much lower testing this week, however, and neither was big enough to cause a spike in the region as a whole.

Without omicron, the expectation for the coming weeks would likely be what played out a year ago. This fall and winter closely followed last year’s trajectory, and a continuation would lead to gradually lower COVID-19 cases until closer to spring.

Omicron could instead mean this recent progress on cases is the calm before a storm, said Derek J. Wingert, a local data analyst with the COVID Tracking Project.

“My guess is in the coming weeks, as early as the next two or three, we’re going to start to see things reverse and then shoot up dramatically like we’ve seen with pretty much everywhere else where omicron lands,” he said.

The omicron spike in South Africa, where it was first identified, was sharp before subsiding fairly fast. The severity of the spike here, Wingert said, could depend on whether enough people take measures to mitigate it before newly approved oral treatments become widely available.

“Even buying a few extra weeks for those to get to pharmacies could ease up the burden on hospitals,” he said.

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