HOUSTON - There are a lot of questions about the Omicron Variant. So we went looking for answers.
Since this new variant was first identified and announced in South Africa last week, it has now spread to more than a dozen countries including Canada, as scientists race to figure out how much of a threat Omicron is.
"Thousands of scientists around the world are working to decode this threat," says Dr. Katelyn Jetelina Epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health.
In fact, she’s one of the medical researchers trying to determine exactly what the Omicron variant is capable of. Dr. Jetelina is now studying Omicron’s patterns.
"What are we seeing with severe disease and death? How is this spreading? How quickly is it spreading, etcetera?" Dr. Jetelina explains.
Once scientists find those answers that will reveal Omicron’s symptom severity, transmissibility, and how effective current vaccines are against it.
"We know this variant has 32 changes on its spike protein. That spike protein is important to pay attention to because it’s basically the virus’ key into our cells, and so if that key changes or mutates, then we need to know about it because potentially it’s becoming a smarter key," Jetelina explains.
Dr. Jetelina says while Omicron has 32 mutations, the Delta variant has just nine.
So does that make it more contagious, more severe? Scientists are now growing Omicron in a lab and are expected to have solid answers within 14 days.
"When we let it grow for a week or two, then we have enough that we can test it against our blood and how well our vaccines work."
Omicron is now confirmed on five different continents and many countries have put travel restrictions in place.
"Banning travel from a few select countries is just not going to get the job done. Travel bans are usually a policy move, a tool to show the public the government is responding," says Dr, Jetelina.
Our current threat level in Harris County was downgraded to ‘moderate’ last week. Judge Lina Hidalgo is expected to hold a news conference Tuesday morning to address this new variant.
Health officials are reiterating the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated, boosted, wear a mask, and social distance.