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The Omicron COVID-19 Variant: What We Know (And Don’t Know)

Message from Dr. Matt Ewend

Dear UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine Teammates,

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and were able to find some peaceful time with those you who mean the most to you.

At some point over the holiday weekend you likely heard about the new Omicron COVID variant. If you’re like me, after a gut reaction of “NO, not again!,” you then likely went searching for more information.

I’m writing today to share some details about what we know – and what we don’t know – about this new variant and to share the perspectives of our experts who’ve helped guide our planning and responses throughout the pandemic.

Please know that we take this new variant seriously. Our approach is two pronged:  we plan to keep our teammates and communities focused our on the core concepts that’ve been successful throughout the pandemic – wear a mask, keep six feet of distance when possible, get a vaccine (and a booster!), wash your hands frequently and use our Well-Being resources to make sure you take care of yourself.

At the same time, we are doing everything possible to ensure we are prepared for any future surges:

Our nationally recognized Infectious Diseases experts and our leadership teams are gathering the best information about this variant from around the world.

Our modeling team is working to adapt our projections to incorporate Omicron.

We are reviewing our response to the recent Delta-driven surge to learn from what worked well and what didn’t to refine our best practices.

We are paying close attention to our staffing and doing all we can to shore up areas where we are understaffed.

Our Supply Chain team is reviewing our resources including medications, PPE, and medical supplies to ensure we are prepared.

Please help us reinforce these key concepts with your patients, peers, loved ones and communities. As additional details become available, we will share updates widely. In the meantime, thank you again for your service and dedication to our patients and teammates.

Sincerely,

Matt Ewend, MD
Chief Clinical Officer, UNC Health
President, UNC Physicians

 

Q&A Session

Watch a Q&A Session featuring Drs. David Wohl and Melissa Miller

Highlights include:

Q: Why is this variant standing out right now? Why is it worrisome and something to be concerned about?
Watch the answer from Dr. Miller and Dr. Wohl

Q: Is it inevitable that Omicron becomes the dominant strain in North Carolina? Can we assume that it’s already here and we just haven’t detected it yet?
Watch the answer from Dr. Miller

Q: What do you say to folks who are on the fence about getting their booster or holding off to see what the data says?
Watch the answer from Dr. Wohl

Q: What is your message to families as we get closer to holidays and gatherings with Omicron on the table?
Watch the answer from Dr. Wohl

 

What We Know:

The Omicron variant has spread quickly in more than 20 countries and appears to be rapidly transmissible.

The first case of the Omicron variant was identified on Dec. 1 in the United States.

The main things we should do now (and reinforce for our peers, patients and community members) are to wear a mask, keep six feet of distance when possible, get a vaccine (and a booster) and practice frequent hand hygiene.

What We Don’t Know:

At this time, Omicron does not yet appear to cause more severe disease/ be more virulent than previous strains.

We do not know if COVID vaccines will be less effective against Omicron. One theory is that the vaccines will be less effective in preventing transmission of the Omicron variant but may help prevent serious illness, especially for those who have received a booster dose of a COVID vaccine.

We do not know if current monoclonal antibody therapies will be as effective against Omicron as they have been against other strains.

Next Steps:

We are incredibly lucky to have multiple national and international experts at UNC Health and the UNC School of Medicine who continue to work tirelessly (as they have throughout the pandemic) to learn more about this new variant and its potential impact.

As we learn more, we will share news and updates via our normal communications channels.

Please help reinforce and model the key behaviors that will help stop the spread of COVID today (wearing a mask, getting a vaccine and booster, keeping at least six feet of distance, and practicing frequent hand hygiene).

We know you likely have other questions – send them to us at covid-19@unchealth.unc.edu.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s COVID-19 Community Standards, vaccine requirements, and other information is regularly updated online at https://carolinatogether.unc.edu/.

Original Post: news.unchealthcare.org

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