Published on January 07, 2022

What Protections to take against Omicron Variant of COVID-19 

As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 makes its arrival in the Ozarks, Ozarks Healthcare officials are asking community members to stay informed and take protections against the virus during the winter months ahead. On Dec. 28, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS) issued a public health alert after sewershed samples tested from the week of Dec. 20 showed presence of the Omicron variant in multiple communities, including West Plains.

“While it’s likely that Omicron could have been present in our community before now due to trends in increasing cases, there is no mistaking that it is definitely here after the holidays,” Dr. Priscilla Frase, Ozarks Healthcare Hospitalist and Chief Medical Information Officer, said. “While there are some characteristics of Omicron that we need more data on to show us its degree of severity, we do know it is highly contagious, which is why we want to encourage our community to take this variant seriously.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is expected that anyone who has contracted the Omicron variant has a high risk of spreading the virus to others, even if no symptoms are noticeable. Current COVID-19 vaccines are still expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalization, and even death due to COVID-19 infection, regardless of the variant.

“It is likely that we will see more breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated individuals due to the Omicron’s highly contagious nature,” Dr. Frase said. “However, the best case scenarios are already showing those who are vaccinated and contract Omicron have a much milder experience with illness than those who are unvaccinated. You may feel bad for a few days with traditional COVID-19 symptoms, including a scratchy throat, cough, fever, congestion, body aches, loss of taste or smell, and others, much like a bad cold. Those who are unvaccinated and contract the Omicron variant are much more likely to experience worsening of symptoms and a prolonged illness. Your best form of protection is to be fully vaccinated and boosted, if you are eligible.”

Those who are 12 or older and fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are eligible for a booster shot at least: two months after his or her last dose of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine, five months after his or her last dose of the Pfizer/Comirnaty vaccine, and six months after his or her last dose of Moderna vaccine.

Adolescents age 12 to 15 years old should receive a booster shot of the Pfizer/Comirnaty vaccine five months after their initial Pfizer vaccination series.

Ozarks Healthcare is currently offering the Moderna, Pfizer/Comirnaty, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccines through its pharmacy located at 1211 Porter Wagoner Blvd. in West Plains. Vaccines are available on a walk-in basis on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. You can call 417-256-1793 for more information.

With more indoor activities taking place due to colder weather setting in, a surge in the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is likely, Dr. Frase said. In addition to vaccination, best safety practices include traditional COVID-19 protections such as masking, washing hands for at least 20 seconds, and monitoring for symptoms. According to Dr. Frase, timing and early detection of COVID-19 is still key to accessing appropriate treatment, regardless of its variant.

“The latest data we have shows Omicron may have a shorter incubation period than the previously dominant Delta variant,” Dr. Frase said. “This means it could take just three days to develop symptoms. Testing too soon or too late can lead to inaccurate testing, which means you could have COVID-19 and not notice. What point you begin to show symptoms can vary from person to person, but it’s best to get tested as soon as you develop symptoms, which is usually three to four days for most after an exposure.”

COVID-19 tests may be scheduled through Ozarks Healthcare by first calling its COVID-19 Hotline at 417-505-7120. Representatives will then help you schedule a test at one of Ozarks Healthcare’s locations. Knowing what to expect after a diagnosis and when to seek emergency care is also important, Dr. Frase said.

“Severity of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 can depend on risk factors like age, underlying health conditions, vaccination status, and more, just as with other variants,” Dr. Frase said. “If you do get diagnosed with a positive result, know there are options that can help. Your doctor can help you determine if you are eligible for monoclonal antibody treatment, which can act like antibodies for your immune system. We are still determining monoclonal infusions’ effectiveness against the progression of Omicron, but currently, you may be eligible for an infusion if you are 12 years or older, weigh more than 88 pounds, have had mild to moderate symptoms in the last ten days, and have one or more high-risk factors.”

Monoclonal antibodies are distributed on a national level and are allocated based on the greatest need, which tend to go to larger cities. Due to a nationwide shortage, Ozarks Healthcare’s supply of antibodies is limited and may be allocated to those who face the highest risk of hospitalization and death.

If you do not qualify for an infusion, it is best to monitor yourself at home, and most importantly, to stay aware, but not panic, Dr. Frase said.

“If your symptoms are mild, it is important to care for yourself at home, as you would with most illnesses,” Dr. Frase said. “Isolation from those in the same household is vital to not spreading COVID-19. You should drink fluids, move as much as possible to avoid congestion settling in your lungs, and monitor your oxygen levels. If you notice low levels or difficulty breathing, seek emergency care. Emergency Departments everywhere are experiencing increased volumes, so being as knowledgeable as possible about your symptoms and illness are very helpful to caregivers.”

For more information about COVID-19 updates and resources, visit https://www.ozarkshealthcare.com/coronavirus-updates/.

Ozarks Healthcare is a system of care encompassing primary care and specialty clinics, along with complete rehabilitation, behavioral healthcare, and home health services. While the 114-bed acute care hospital cares for more than 5,400 admissions, the entire health system has more than 364,000 patient visits annually in South Central Missouri and Northern Arkansas. For more information about Ozarks Healthcare, visit www.OzarksHealthcare.com.

Dr. Priscilla Frase

Dr. Priscilla Frase, Ozarks Healthcare Hospitalist and Chief Medical Information Officer

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