Pittsburgh doctors prepare for possibility of COVID-19 omicron variant

PITTSBURGH — By now, you’ve heard the name of the latest COVID-19 variant, omicron.

The World Health Organization says it poses a high risk.

Here in Pittsburgh and across the commonwealth, there are no confirmed cases so far.

>> RELATED STORY: Omicron variant: What are the symptoms; are vaccines effective; what we know now

Locally, doctors are keeping a close eye on the situation, and say getting vaccinated is more important than ever before.

“My take-home message is we need to be prepared, but we should not panic,” said Dr. Arvind Venkat, emergency physician with Allegheny Health Network.

Venkat says the variant was first identified in South Africa a few days ago, but he says it doesn’t mean it started there.

“The concern is these mutations might make it more transmissible or more virulent.”

Venkat says because the research and data on the variant are so new, there are a lot of unknowns, including the warning signs and how your body will react to it.

“We really don’t know yet whether the symptoms are going to be significantly different. There really hasn’t been enough time to investigate that,” said Venkat.

As far as testing for this variant and keeping local and statewide surveillance, he says there is a process.

“Public health labs have to sequence samples from positive patients. So when we do the PCR testing, it’s possible for labs to then send those samples to public health labs.”

He says it’s too soon to say whether omicron is here in Pittsburgh.

In fact, he says he wouldn’t be surprised if cases are in the U.S. that haven’t been reported yet.

“With how interconnected the world is, it is very likely that we already have cases here in the U.S., and it’s just a matter of time as we sequence more samples that this is identified.”

Dr. Venkat says getting both the flu shot and COVID vaccine could be critical in keeping hospital beds open in the months ahead.

He says masking and social distancing are essential in the ongoing fight.

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