Health Report: Alaska DHSS hold press conference on Omicron variant

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 4:15 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Due to the discovery of the Omicron variant, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services held a press conference to answer questions on this new version of the virus.

According to Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer for the State of Alaska, the variant was originally discovered in South Africa, and what makes this variant so interesting is that it looks much different than previously identified viruses.

“Many more mutations, and more mutations than they had seen in previous variants,” Dr. Zink explained, “both mutations that we’ve seen before, as well as some new mutations that had not been seen before all in the same variant - and as a result, they very quickly got information together and shared it with the world. I think it’s really important to acknowledge their tremendous work over the last week on this space, and their openness and transparency on the data. It is making an entire world able to respond much more quickly.”

Dr. Zink went on to explain that at this time, not much is known regarding Omicron.

“We don’t know many things about this,” she elaborated. “We don’t know if it’s more transmissible, we don’t know if it makes you more sick, we don’t know if it makes you less sick. We don’t know if the vaccines will work just as well or if they won’t work quite as well. We don’t know if our treatments will work the same or not. So there’s lots to learn in that space, and we’ll be learning lots more information overall.”

Dr. Zink continued, “We do know that both people who have been previously infected by COVID-19, as well as people who have been previously vaccinated, have been infected by this new variant. So that is of concern as well and why we continue to watch it. We also think that all of our tests right now will continue to pick up this variant. So the current testing structure that we have in place is an important tool. We don’t want this variant, or other variants of COVID to be spreading. So if you are COVID positive, please stay away from others to minimize your spread of the disease, and test if you have symptoms early on.”

However, mitigation efforts such as social distancing are believed to help prevent the spread of the new variant according to Dr. Zink.

“We also know that there are many things that work against COVID-19 that we have learned over time,” she remarked. “Distancing, keeping our circle small, masking - all make a difference as well as ventilation. So continue to employ those same aspects. The last thing that we do know is that vaccines likely will still work really well. How well? We have lots to learn in that space, but vaccines are our biggest tool against this virus and so we continue to follow that closely. So this is a fantastic time for Alaskans to get vaccinated if they’ve not gotten vaccinated - and it should be noted that the CDC changed their language as of today that anyone who is 18 and above and is six months or greater after an mRNA vaccine, or two months or greater after a J&J vaccine, should now get a booster shot.”

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