Public health experts: Too early to tell Omicron's impact on KC metro

dana hawkinson
Posted at 7:37 PM, Nov 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-26 23:45:02-05

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — With the World Health Organization naming the latest COVID-19 variant on Friday, local doctors and public health officials say it’s too early to say how this particular strain will impact the metro.

Fears over the "Omicron" variant made Wall Street see its worst day so far this year, as the U.S. announced new travel restrictions to keep it from spreading.

"There are quite a few mutations in this variant, especially in the spike protein itself," said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System.

But Hawkinson cautions there isn't a lot of information about this new variant.

"We don't know what it means clinically. We don't know what it means epidemiologically. We don't know what the biological relevance of these mutations are," Hawkinson said.

Omicron, first detected in South Africa, is now in Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.

"I think one of the things that we have found about SARS-CoV-2 is that likely, by the time you see or identify a variant, there is a good chance that has probably already spread outside of that area," Hawkinson said.

Locally, scientists are monitoring wastewater to see how much of the virus and what kind of strain is circulating.

"Those reports come out regularly, on a weekly basis, and we usually see those spikes pretty quickly to know that something is coming down the pipeline that we should be concerned about," said Aaron Smullin, a spokesperson for the Platte County Health Department.

While the local impact of Omicron is unclear, the Platte County Health Department urges people to get vaccinated if they haven't already.

"We have to get enough folks vaccinated to stop the spread of COVID and stop the variants," Smullin said. "If we reach a high enough vaccine rate, we'll see COVID numbers go down."

He adds that in Platte County, outside of Kansas City, Missouri, limits, new hospital admissions of patients with COVID-19 have increased to 88.14 on average per day. This is up from the previous week at 80.57 (Nov. 12) and from the week prior at 82.00 (Nov. 5), based on data compiled by the Mid-America Regional council.

"People who are vaccinated tend to have the ability to neutralize those variants of concern that they have never seen because of what the immunity that the vaccine induces," Hawkinson said.

Hawkinson says if there's ever a variant that's resistant to vaccines, both Moderna and Pfizer can pivot their vaccine-making process to target a specific strain.