Wisconsin DHS provides update on Omicron variant

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 5:46 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) reported 5,097 new COVID-19 cases Thursday in the state.

That’s the largest single-day increases in 2021.

The new cases come as the state prepares to battle a new COVID-19 strain, the Omicron variant.

State DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard said as of Thursday afternoon, there aren’t any confirmed Omicron variant cases in Wisconsin. However, it could already be in the state.

“There’s a bit of a lag from when a patient gets and when the sequencing results are available, sometimes one to two weeks,” he said. “So it is, to your question, possible, perhaps likely, that the Omicron variant is circulating in the United States and it takes time for us to detect it and we’ll report that when we do.”

He said the Delta variant is currently the most common strain in Wisconsin but that could change.

“What we’ve observed so far is how fast the Omicron variant spreads through a community,” Westergaard said. “And that was what got everyone’s attention in the South African region where it showed up very quickly and then became the dominant strain of the virus that was circulating.”

He added scientists aren’t sure yet how sick people can get from the Omicron variant. While there’s anecdotal evidence of it causing milder illness than other strains, people should still take it seriously.

“It really is a new entity that we need to learn about,” Westergaard said. “There’s been some prediction about whether therapies like monoclonal antibodies or vaccine will save the same effect, or the same biding because of the changing of the shape of the virus proteins. We are hearing sort of mixed concerns about whether that will be an issue.”

He said scientists should have more answers over the next month, as more people get the Omicron strain.

Westergaard also said in the mean, people should continue getting vaccinated, wearing masks and practicing good hand hygiene.

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