MEMPHIS, Tenn.– Just when many thought the coronavirus was beginning to fade, there’s concern about a new variant and the new dangers it could bring.
Days after Memphians and Mid-Southerners gathered for what was their first normal Thanksgiving since 2019, many started a new week learning about a new coronavirus variant: Omicron.
Dr. Hiren Pokharna, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist Hospital, said it’s more important to keep getting vaccinated to stay protected.
“We know that it is more transmissible than the Delta variant, but the hope is with our vaccination rates being a little higher than that (South Africa), we will be a little more protected, plus it’s very important to keep getting vaccinated,” he said.
The omicron variant was detected in South Africa, and large number of mutations and is rapidly spreading in several countries.
Dr. Michael Threlkeld, the director of Infection Control at Baptist Hospital, said health officials are working to answer questions about this new variant.
“The real questions that we need to know and people are vigorously working on is how protected are we after previous protection or vaccination with our current vaccines or how sick will this make people,” he said.
About two months ago, Memphis and Shelby County appeared to be turning the tide in battling the pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations were dramatically dropping following a deadly summer surge of the delta variant and mandates were being lifted.
But what will this new variant be a setback?
“We’ve been here before. We’re pretty experienced with dealing with this now. We know the measures that help prevent things and certainly are better vaccinated that we were with some previous strains,” Dr. Threlkeld said.
Dr. Threlkeld said it’s important that people get vaccinated now and use common sense because the virus is still with us.
“If you’re sick, don’t expose people. If you’re going to be in a crowded situation that you can’t avoid, maybe it’s a good time to still wear a mask,” he said.
The new variant hasn’t been identified in Memphis and Shelby County but health experts warn–just like the Delta variant–it could be a matter of time before it gets here.