Omicron variant’s arrival in Kansas is only a ‘matter of time’ health officials say

Coronavirus

An employee draws up a syringe with the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease at vaccination bus in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Germany battles rising numbers of coronavirus infections. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

TOPEKA (KSNT) – It is only a “matter of time” that the COVID-19 variant Omicron will arrive in the United States and, eventually, Kansas.

Matthew Lara, a spokesperson from the Kansas Department of Health & Environment, KDHE, told Kansas Capitol Bureau in an email Monday that it’s important to stay alert.

“This variant is new and there is still a lot to learn around it’s transmissibility. It is unclear how quickly it will spread, but because it has been found in so many countries already, we should also assume it is already in the US.  KDHE will continue to sequence positive COVID 19 samples to look for the Omicron variant.  Wearing a mask in indoor spaces, maintaining social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene are important steps you can take now to reduce your risk of getting the Omicron variant or any type of COVID-19. Now is the time for all eligible Kansans to get the COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot to protect themselves. “

MATTHEW LARA, KANSAS DEPT. OF HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT SPOKESPERSON

According to a recent report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the variant Omicron is being monitored with no confirmed cases in the U.S. to date. Much about the variant is unknown including how quickly it will spread, but it has been reported in 17 countries abroad, including Canada, with the assumption that it will eventually reach the U.S.

It is speculated that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than other variants as it has spread quickly in South Africa where only 25% of the population is vaccinated. The KDHE is currently on the lookout for the variant with updated testing procedures designed to identify the Omicron variant.

According to Lara, the Omicron variant is new and there is still a lot to learn about its transmissibility or how contagious it is.

“Wearing a mask in indoor spaces, maintaining social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene are important steps you can take now to reduce your risk of getting the Omicron variant or any type of COVID-19,” Lara wrote.

As for testing for the variant, Lara said the state routinely works with lab partners to obtain positive COVID-19 samples for additional testing where the virus is sequenced at the KDHE state lab to identify which variant it is (genomic sequencing). Lara noted that the Omicron is different from Delta because Omicron has a gene deletion on the s-gene (s-gene dropout).  

“We will coordinate with our contract lab partners that use a specific type of test that identifies COVID-19 variants with the “s-gene dropout” and prioritize these positive samples for genomic sequencing. The KDHE state lab is procuring a test that looks specifically for the s-gene and all positive samples will be run a second time using this test to look for s-gene dropout.  All samples that are missing the s-gene on the second test will then be prioritized for genomic sequencing to determine if it is the Omicron variant.”

MATTHEW LARA, KANSAS DEPT. OF HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT SPOKESPERSON

64 percent of eligible Kansans have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus and are more prepared for Omicron than previous variants. It is the belief by experts that the current COVID-19 vaccine will continue to protect those who are vaccinated from severe disease and death. Those who have taken boosters are considered to be even more prepared for the variant as boosters increase antibody response.

The KDHE encourages Kansans to get the vaccine and follow-up booster shots to be fully prepared for the event that Omicron reaches the state. Necessary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or the new variant remain the same.

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