Last week, many shared Thanksgiving with family and friends, in-person and unmasked, for the first time in two years. This marked a major milestone in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
But in a matter of days, a new threat has triggered travel bans and grounded flights worldwide — the newly-detected Omicron variant has emerged, setting the world’s teeth on edge yet again.
The variant was first detected in Botswana and reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa on Nov. 24. According to WHO, the first confirmed Omicron infection was collected on Nov. 9.
Omicron has been named a “variant of concern” by WHO.
In Mississippi, it has been slightly over a week since Gov. Tate Reeves allowed the COVID-19 State of Emergency to expire.
The state of emergency was fundamental in the continuation of several measures that were in place to help guide the state through the pandemic. The latest seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in Mississippi is 269 — relatively low compared to the pandemic’s peak in the state in late August. However, the state is behind in vaccinations with only 46.9% of Mississippi residents being fully vaccinated.
Currently, it is unknown what threat the Omicron variant poses, as the variant was detected less than a month ago. It is unclear whether the variant is more contagious, whether contraction of the variant leads to more severe symptoms and what impact the variant has on vaccine efficacy.
It has, however, been said to have “worrying characteristics” by WHO.
Reeves appeared on Meet the Press Sunday morning, where he briefly addressed his decision to let the state of emergency expire and his plans moving forward.
“We’re certainly monitoring this new variant,” he said. “We don’t have all the data that we need to make decisions at this time.”
Otherwise, Mississippi’s departments and government officials have yet to publicly address the Omicron variant, though State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs did tweet this news article about the variant on Saturday.
Since the initial announcement by WHO, a wave of travel bans and restrictions have been issued by the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, Japan, India, Canada and the United States.
President Joe Biden announced Friday the United States would be imposing travel restrictions, blocking travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The ban goes into effect today.
As of Sunday evening, Omicron variant cases of the coronavirus have been identified in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel, South Africa and Canada.
No cases have been detected anywhere in the United States, but New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency, bracing for Omicron’s impact in her state.
Most health officials agree that vaccines are the way forward — through the pandemic and against whatever threat Omicron and other variants may pose.
In Lafayette county, 51.40% of people are fully vaccinated.