COVID-19 Omicron variant confirmed in North Dakota

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The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) has confirmed four cases of the COVID-19 omicron variant in the state. Two cases were confirmed in Ward County, one in Burleigh County and one in Cass County. All four cases were identified in individuals under the age of 50. Two cases had traveled together to another state and two cases have no travel noted. Three of the four individuals had completed two doses of COVID-19 vaccine but had not received booster doses. One case was not vaccinated. None of the individuals have been hospitalized.

“The nature of two of these cases indicates that local or community transmission of the omicron variant is occurring within our state,” said Kirby Kruger, NDDoH Disease Control and Forensic Pathology Section Chief.

“As individuals are planning travel and hold holiday gatherings, it is of increased importance to take precautions to protect the health of those in our communities and of those we love,” said ND State Health Officer, Nizar Wehbi. “We encourage citizens to seek out testing before, and after holiday gatherings, and to use protective measures such as social distancing, sanitizing and masks. Those who are sick with any symptoms are urged not to attend gatherings.”

“The omicron variant was first detected in Southern Africa and reported for the first time on November 24, 2021. This variant is new and while we are still learning how it will impact those who it infects, what we understand now is that this variant is more infectious than the delta variant,” said Kruger. “Other countries and states where omicron has emerged have shown rapid increases in case reports. There is concern that a large number of new cases will result in increased hospitalizations, putting additional strain on an already difficult situation. Data also indicate that some of the monoclonal antibody therapies may not be effective in treating omicron, which may increase the risk for more people having severe outcomes with an omicron infection.”

Reports coming from Europe and South Africa are showing an increase in reinfections, those who previously have had COVID – 19 disease are at risk for reinfection when exposed to the new variant.

“Vaccination is critical to protecting the lives and livelihoods of North Dakotans. I choose to be vaccinated and I encourage all North Dakotans to take this important measure to reduce the risk to personal health and the health of others,” said Wehbi. “If you have already completed your primary series, getting a booster has been shown in early studies to provide important protection against this variant.”

Vaccination remains the best way to reduce the risk of infection and serious illness from all variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including omicron. The NDDoH urges everyone to choose to start their vaccine series as soon as possible and for those who have been vaccinated to seek their booster dose as soon as you are eligible.

“Booster doses are essential to ensure the highest level of protection against omicron,” said Molly Howell, Immunization Director with the NDDoH. “Early data from the United Kingdom is showing that a booster dose with mRNA vaccine and vaccination after infection will increase protection against infection and likely serious disease due to omicron.  Everyone ages 16 and older are recommended to receive a booster dose.”

In addition to vaccination, other measures to reduce the risk of spreading the SARS

CoV-2 virus include:

·         Staying home when ill

·         Testing for COVID-19 if ill with respiratory symptoms and/or fever

·         Self-isolating for 10 days if you have COVID-19

·         Testing twice after being exposed to COVID-19, once immediately and then five to seven days after exposure and self-quarantine for at least 7 days.

·         Avoiding large crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces

·         Social distancing

·         Wearing a mask when indoors in a public space

·         Washing hands frequently

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