KGVO reached out to Missoula City County Health Department’s Incident Commander Cindy Farr for local reaction to the newest development with COVID 19 called the Omicron Variant.

“This is a new variant that has been deemed ‘a variant of concern’ by the World Health Organization,” said Farr. “Obviously, they're keeping a close eye on this variant. Right now, there's not a whole lot known about it. We know that it is coming out of Africa. It's been identified in multiple European countries, and it may already be in the United States and just might not have been identified yet.”

Farr said this variant may have the capacity to cause reinfection for those who have already contracted COVID.

“The things that we do know about it are that they're thinking that it's possible that it could cause reinfection,” she said. “That means if you've been sick with COVID with either the Alpha or the Delta strain or one of the others that are going around, that this particular variant might be able to reinfect you even if you've been infected before.”

Farr said the Omicron Variant may be more complex that the first two variants.

“It's got many more markers on the ‘spike protein’ that are different from the other variants than what we usually see,” she said. “Usually there's only a few things that are different, but with this one, there's about 30 different things that that have changed on the virus. So what we don't know at this point are, is it going to be more contagious, is it going to cause more severe infection, is it going to take over the Delta as the most dominant strain? We just don't really know those things yet.”

Farr was asked about the number and percentage of the Missoula County population that are vaccinated against COVID 19. She said since the 5 to 11 year olds have just begun to be vaccinated, the overall numbers are down.

“The total amount of fully vaccinated individuals is only at 59 percent right now because obviously it just opened up for those children that are five to 11,” she said. “We also have people that decided not to get vaccinated until more recently and so they haven't gotten their second dose of vaccine yet. In order for us to feel like we might reach herd immunity, we need to have about 75 to 80 percent of the population fully vaccinated, and that's for the total population and not just the eligible population.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said no Omicron cases have yet been discovered in the US.

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