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Health experts watching omicron variant, potential holiday spread of virus

Virus Outbreak Hong Kong
Posted at 5:08 PM, Dec 20, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health calls the newest variant of COVID-19 "probably one of the most transmissible or contagious infections we've had in the past century."

"Maybe that one person with omicron could infect up to 18 to 20 additional people," said Dr. Steven Stack on Saturday.

That's opposed to the current dominant COVID variant, delta. Dr. Stack says one person with the delta variant could infect up to five others.

This arrival of the omicron variant comes less than a week before Christmas.

"So just like any other respiratory virus that's airborne, you're going to see spikes after people are in enclosed spaces together," said Dr. Elizabeth Hawse with Commonwealth Pediatrics, "We keep trying to emphasize this, please get vaccinated and boosted if you're eligible."

However, a vaccine does not 100% prevent infection, so medical professionals say testing, even an at-home test, will be key.

"They (at-home tests) do work for finding omicron. That's the guidance the FDA has given. So you can use those with confidence," said Dr. Stack.

Currently, at-home kits are hard to find.

"Because those are not always available at the pharmacies every day, and sometimes you have to call around to see who has them in stock," said Dr. Hawse.

There are still many testing sites that administer the more-accurate PCR test across central Kentucky. Those are also free. But the results take longer to receive than a 15-minute rapid test.

Dr. Dan Goulson with CHI St. Joseph Health says there are currently more than 90 COVID-positive patients across the system's six hospitals. It does not appear any of them have the omicron variant, which Dr. Goulson says early results appear to indicate omicron may not be as severe of an infection as previously feared.

But health experts say that hospitals will be on the watch if the number of infections speeds up too quickly.