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As a new variant of COVID-19 begins to spread around the globe, state officials are urging residents to get vaccinated before Omicron becomes a serious threat.

The new variant has established itself in South America and appears to spread more easily than the Delta variant that spread around the globe and caused cases and deaths to spike in Oregon.

Initial reports in South Africa show the Omicron variant spreads easily, but most cases are less severe with many reporting cold-like symptoms.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger , the state epidemiologist, said work is ongoing to learn more about Omicron, but he said one thing is for certain - it will get to Oregon.

“Omicron has not yet been detected in the Oregon, but we expect it will be in the coming days due to its reported high transmissibility,” Sidelinger said. “Oregon has one of the most robust variant surveillance systems in the United States, and so far, no cases of Omicron have been detected. What we do know is that the basic prevention steps we have long talked about remain the best ways to protect yourself against Omicron, Delta or any variant of COVID-19 that is circulating. Vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19 infection and transmission, including most circulating variants.

While it is too early to tell if Omicron can be stopped with the vaccine, Sidelinger said the success in keeping people out of the hospital and alive in Delta shows the vaccine is effective, even if someone catches COVID.

“The vaccines have remained highly effective against other variants, and we expect the same to be true with Omicron. We should have early answers in the coming weeks,” he said. “The best way to protect yourself against Omicron, or any variant of COVID-19 that is circulating, is to be vaccinated. Vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19. Those who are not yet vaccinated should get their first COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Those due for a booster – all adults either two months after a Johnson & Johnson vaccination or six months after a Moderna or Pfizer vaccination – should get it as soon as possible. Wearing a mask when inside public places as well as social distancing and handwashing remain incredibly important in the face of an emerging variant and high levels of community transmission.”

Some reports have shown Omicron is in California, which means it is just a matter of time before it moves to Oregon. While Sidelinger said that will cause some stress, he said taking preventative measures are the best steps to remain safe.

“We know that news of Omicron’s emergence will cause many people to experience some anxiety about the unknown,” he said. “We also know there is a great deal of “pandemic fatigue” as cases, hospitalizations and deaths are reported daily. COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives. I share these anxieties as we continue to face COVID-19.”

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