UPMC discusses plans to keep community safe against omicron variant

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EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Just one day after learning the COVID-19 omicron variant was confirmed in California, a Minnesota man has tested positive for it.

Health officials say it’s just a matter of time before the latest COVID variant surfaces in Pennsylvania.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center held a virtual news conference Thursday to tackle the topic. Eyewitness News participated in the event to learn more about UPMC’s plans to treat and help keep the community safe.

At Thursday’s news conference in Pittsburgh, UPMC doctors announced they’re already working to answer the next big question during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“Do monoclonal antibodies, vaccines or other treatments work against omicron the latest SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern,” Dr. Graham Snyder said.

Dr. Snyder says no one should be surprised by the latest variant of novel coronavirus, given viruses mutate whenever they have a chance to spread. Health officials in South Africa where the new variant was first detected say the omicron variant is spreading at an exponential rate, doubling in just 24 hours.

They indicate so far less severe illness from the variant with many infections among people who previously had COVID. Eyewitness News brought that up with Dr. Snyder.

“I will say it is concerning how quickly it is spreading in South Africa. It’s important to know whether or not our immune system is remaining well-prepared or less-prepared whether that be from natural infection or from vaccination and it’s important to know how effective our therapies are,” Dr. Snyder said.

Dr. Snyder says UPMC will look to what he calls their “robust healthcare database” to determine who is most vulnerable to complications and infections from the omicron variant and how well treatments work.

“We perform genomic sequencing on a sampling of SARS-CoV-2 viruses from our community giving us an understanding of the variants circulating in our region. Our data analytics team has tracked COVID-19 trends with each surge in each variant and we’ll continue to do that when omicron arrives in our region,” Dr. Snyder said.

Dr. Snyder says while there’s a lot to learn about the omicron variant and how it’s primarily transmitted, it doesn’t change what we should do to stay safe.

He urges us to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and get the booster if you’re eligible.

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