Positive omicron cases were reported out of Kenton, Campbell, Fayette, and Jefferson counties.
“Here we are facing a tornado disaster, and the holidays are coming up, and if just feels like one more thing on top of what we already confronted,” Dr. Steven Stack, Commissioner, Kentucky’s Department for Public Health, said.
With legislation forbidding Beshear from having the authority to enforce a state-wide mask mandate, he urged institutions like schools and businesses to enforce it themselves.
“This thing is going to spread so fast, that any school that is not doing mandatory masking, any business that is not having their folks wear masks, could see entire schools, entire shifts, get infected very quickly,” Beshear said.
In addition to the Governor warning institutions that omicron has the power to disrupt everything, he said the variant is the most transmissible virus in modern human history.
“COVID is not finished with us yet,” Stack said. He is worried that those who already suffer from the fatigue of COVID-19-related news will not take omicron’s arrival to heart.
In a follow-up interview with Fox 56 News, Stack explains the behavior of the omicron and how it changed since the original COVID-19 strain.
“There are over 50 different mutations in this version of it,” Stack. “There have been changes in the spike protein, those are the tennis balls on ends of sticks on the outside of the virus, and it makes it spread much more easily. Some of those other mutations may have undermined its dangerousness.”
Based on the hospitalization rates in South Africa and the United Kingdom, one piece of good news Stack reports is that omicron seems to cause milder symptoms compared to the delta variant.
“The vast majority of those mutations don’t have any meaningful impact, but occasionally, it hits the lottery and gets better at something,” Stack said.
In this case, the omicron variant got better at multiplying, and a person can infect between 18-20 people at a time.
“There is a need for a heightened sense of urgency, but there’s not a need for panic,” Stack said.
RECOMMENDED STEPS TO SLOW INFECTION RATE
Stack and Beshear said the necessary steps to slow the spread of omicron involve the following:
- Stay updated with vaccinations and booster shots.
- Testing at-home and quarantining for 10 days if tests are positive.
- Wearing masks, including indoors.
Stack also warns that those who had COVID-19 prior will not be immune against the omicron variant.
“That’s a recipe for disaster,” Stack said. In rural Kentucky, the state reports a low percentage of vaccinations, which could be detrimental to the state because of omicron’s ability to spread rapidly.
“People want to do what’s right for their family and friends. So they’re not doing this because they have a desire to harm themselves or others. They’re doing it because they have not yet felt confidence and comfort in the information provided is in their best interest, and we have to find a way to bridge that,” Stack said.
Stack assures that the mRNA vaccines Pfizer and Moderna are the safest guards for protection against the virus. He said that booster shots are highly recommended as well if it has been six months since one’s last shot. The J&J vaccine was recently not recommended as an effective vaccine or booster shot option against the variant.
For those who are reluctant to get their booster shots due to how sick they were from their first shots, Stack said, “The side effects from getting the booster are much less than the dangers from getting the infection.”
With the omicron variant’s ability to double every two to three days, Beshear and Stack said they expect omicron to wipe out all other flu strains and be present in every county of Kentucky, in a matter of weeks.
They said they turn to local leaders to encourage the public to be as safe as possible.
“It’s often the people you personally know that you have the most trust and confidence in, people at your church and at your schools. I think we need all of them to embrace the facts that we’re sharing,” Stack said.
For anyone who catches the omicron variant, Stack said that the current monoclonal antibodies will not work as a treatment for this strain, at least not until new ones have been developed.
However, he did say that the Merck pills and Pfizer pills are effective treatment options.
Stack reiterated that the Merck pill is about 30% effective against COVID-19 if it is taken within five days of the symptom’s onset. The Pfizer pill is 89% effective as has to be taken within three days of the symptom’s onset, and relying on both to be available is risky as supply is limited.
RAPID ANTIGEN TEST KITS
With the holidays approaching, Stack and Beshear are urging folks to buy the COVID-19 antigen at-home test kits, to help slow the spread of omicron. Stack recommended Binax and Ellume, and reported that within the coming months, the federal government has just purchased 300 million more at-home test kits to hit the market.