ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Health officials in Minnesota confirmed they have detected 7 cases of the Omicron variant to date, with evidence that community spread is occurring in the state.
Of the 7 cases reported by the Minnesota Department of Health, 2 are in the same household. The other 5 are not connected to those 2 and none of the 5 have reported recent travel – a sign MDH says suggests community spread.
Minnesota's first Omicron cases
Minnesota’s first Omicron case was reported at the beginning of the month from a man who had recently traveled to New York City.
A second case was reported Sunday at Minnesota State University, Mankato. That person had also recently traveled within the United States.
How many COVID cases are Omicron variant?
U.S. public health officials estimated this week that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus now makes up almost 3% of COVID-19 cases reported nationwide.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that while the delta variant remains dominant, the omicron variant represented 2.9% of sequenced U.S. cases last week, up from 0.4% during the previous week
Scientists are still learning about the variant, but initial data suggests it may be less severe than the Delta variant.
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Omicron variant FAQs
Dr. Greg Poland, a Mayo Clinic vaccine and epidemiology expert, and founder and director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group, breaks down what doctors know about the latest omicron COVID-19 variant and how effective current vaccines are against it.
Is omicron more dangerous or contagious than previous strains of COVID-19 including the delta variant?
"Omicron, and these are early data, subject to change, is about two to six times more infectious than Delta," Dr. Poland said. "Early data suggests increased transmissibility but perhaps less severity."
Meaning, it’s likely that the omicron variant is more contagious, but will not result in as many deaths or hospitalizations as delta.
"You have a very transmissible virus that causes a lot of disease and death, Delta, and you have a hyper transmissible virus, like omicron, that appears to cause much less in the way of death and hospitalization and sickness," Dr. Poland said.
Will current COVID-19 vaccines protect people against the omicron variant?
Dr. Poland says early indicators are, yes, the current COVID-19 vaccines offer some protection from the Omicron variant.
On Wednesday Pfizer announced early lab testing indicates their booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine is effective in fighting against omicron. Dr. Poland recommends people get a booster shot to increase the number of antibodies they have to fight off infection. People who have not received a dose of the vaccine in the last six months are lacking the antibodies they need to prevent infection from omicron. A booster brings their antibody levels back up to a level that can prevent infection.
"The only thing we can do right now is to get a booster and the early preliminary evidence suggests that that works," Dr. Poland said.
Will COVID-19 continue to mutate creating new variants?
"Let me make this clear, we can no longer eradicate this virus and this disease. Your great, great, great-grandchildren will be getting immunized against this disease," Dr. Poland said.
Dr. Poland says because the virus can be carried by animals it will continue to live in those populations, even if humans are not spreading the virus, and will continue to mutate within those animal populations, creating versions that are spreadable to humans.
Dr. Poland compared what will happen with COVID-19 to what we experience with the flu. In 1918 the flu sparked a pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people. Today, we still vaccinate against the flu, and mutations of that deadly flu strain, even if strains currently circulating aren’t as deadly.