BISMARCK, N.D. – The omicron variant of COVID-19 has emerged as the predominant variant in North Dakota. The latest round of variant testing resulted in 130 out of 142 (91.5%) sequenced specimens confirmed to be omicron. From this sample, the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) estimates that the omicron variant is now likely to be at least 90% of the SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in North Dakota.
Omicron cases have increased dramatically, resulting in record cases reported in a single day. This variant appears to be milder than earlier variants; however, omicron is so contagious that the sheer number of patients is flooding hospitals and clinics with sick people. The increase in cases is also causing disruption in health care system and schools as more people need to stay home because they are infected or are caring for someone who is ill.
“This week, we have seen record numbers of positive cases of COVID-19,” said Kirby Kruger, NDDoH Disease Control and Forensic Pathology section chief. “We’ve seen numbers climb in our communities and schools and among individuals of all ages. Today, there are three children under the age of five who are in the hospital due to COVID-19. While this variant is milder for some, we should not underestimate how serious this virus is, and we should each take proactive measures to protect against infection.”
COVID-19 vaccination continues to be the most effective way to prevent severe infection, including hospitalization and death, due to the omicron variant. Everyone age five and older are recommended to be vaccinated. Individuals over age 12, who have completed their primary series more than five months ago for Pfizer or Moderna, or two months ago for Johnson and Johnson, should receive a booster dose. Being up to date with vaccinations, including booster doses, remains the single best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.
“Monoclonal antibodies have been highly effective as a treatment to prevent hospitalization and death among individuals who are at high risk and become infected with COVID-19,” said Tim Wiedrich, NDDoH Health Resources and Response section chief. “Only one of the three available monoclonal therapies for those with mild or moderate illness is effective against omicron.”
The supply of antivirals and monoclonal antibodies is extremely limited in the United States and North Dakota. This week, the State received only 72 doses of sotrovimab, the one monoclonal antibody treatment which works well against omicron. As a result, health care providers need to prioritize who receives treatment, and treatment options will be limited for people diagnosed with COVID-19.
“Individuals should not put off vaccination and count on monoclonal antibody or antiviral treatment when they become sick. Vaccination, including boosters, is the best way to prevent severe illness and protect against hospitalization and death,” said Wiedrich.
The antibody infusions are not intended for those who are already very sick and should be given as soon as possible after a positive test result and within ten days of symptom onset. Those who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease and have tested positive for COVID-19 should contact their health care provider as soon as possible to discuss the option of treatment. People who may have a compromised immune system may be eligible for the preventive monoclonal antibodies and should consult with their health care provider.
People who are at increased risk for COVID-19 may include, but are not limited to, people older than age 65 or those with underlying health conditions such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, chronic lung disease, dementia or neurological conditions, diabetes (both type I or type II), Down syndrome, heart conditions, HIV, or a weakened immune system.
“There are ways we as individuals can protect ourselves and those around us. Simple actions can have a positive impact on slowing the spread of disease in our communities,” said Kruger.
Measures that can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 include:
• Staying at home when ill and getting tested for COVID-19
• Self-isolating for a minimum of five days if you have COVID-19
• Social distancing when around others
• Avoiding large crowds
• Wearing a well-fitting mask in indoor public spaces
• Self-quarantining if you are a close contact
• Testing on day five of quarantine if you are a close contact
• Practicing good hand hygiene
For more information about cases in North Dakota, the omicron variant, isolation and quarantine guidance, monoclonal antibody treatment or vaccines, please visit the NDDoH website at www.health.nd.gov.
People who have recently been diagnosed with COVID-19 and need further assistance can call the COVID-19 Hotline at 1-866-207-2880.