State’s first 3 omicron variant cases have mild symptoms, health dept. says

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Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 7:28 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 16, 2021 at 1:28 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS/WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says all three of the first patients in South Carolina confirmed to be infected with the omicron variant were fully vaccinated but had not received a booster shot.

DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said all three patients were adults and had mild symptoms.

“When we say mild symptoms when talking about COVID-19, we’re talking about things that first of all aren’t going to make you feel like you need to go to the hospital and potentially be admitted,” Traxler said. “So things you’re not experiencing, a significant shortness of breath or significant chest pain, things like that.”

The Medical University of South Carolina announced earlier on Wednesday two of the three patients had received two vaccine doses and the third received one dose. But one is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive the second dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“It is three cases, all of them in the Lowcountry. Two out of the three were fully vaccinated, but not boosted, and one had only one dose of the vaccine,” MUSC Molecular Pathology Lab Director Dr. Julie Hirschhorn said.

MUSC said in an earlier release the cases were detected in patients from Charleston, North Charleston and on Johns Island. The first Omicron case in the state involved a COVID sample collected for testing on Dec. 4, MUSC said, which means the fast-spreading variant has been here for at least a couple of weeks.

Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Helmut Albrecht says Omicron will likely be the dominant strain in South Carolina in a month.

“So far, once you have a significant push with Omicron that we seem to be seeing, a month or two months later there is nothing else you see,” he said, noting early data out of South Africa.

Dr. Albrecht explained the variant did not come from Delta, and its origins concern him.

“It came from another virus that we first and last saw in April 2020, it had only one or two mutations. It has developed more than 50 mutations in the time in between and we didn’t know where it was,” he said. “We know that the virus can do that but it is still kind of scary that we have no warning signs for one and a half years and now we have a full-fledged new variant.”

He said this concerns him because it isn’t clear how many other variants with potentially dangerous mutations could be going undetected.

Albrecht and Traxler said getting fully vaccinated and boosted are the most important things people can do to protect themselves from Omicron.

“Please, if you are not already fully vaccinated and you’re five years old or over, please get fully vaccinated, and if you are fully vaccinated, and it’s been the appropriate amount of time, you’re an adult or even 16 and over now, please get your booster shot,” Traxler said. We know especially that getting your booster shot really helps to increase your antibody levels and your protection against the omicron variant.

She said even fully vaccinated people who have received their booster shot should consider wearing a face-covering as an extra layer of protection.

You should not count on natural immunity alone, Traxler said.

However, for children who are not eligible to get the vaccine or a booster, Albrecht said families need to be cautious this holiday season.

“Johannesburg has seen a significant increase in pediatric admissions, including kids under 5 years of age…the good news is kids typically have a milder illness, but they are not immune to this,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the first U.S. case of the variant was identified on Dec. 1. As of December 8, just one week later, cases had been reported from across the country, with 22 states reporting at least one case.

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