Health Bulletin: Omicron underscores need to take COVID seriously


Chair, Westfield Board of Health

By Juanita Carnes FNP, Board of Health chair

Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. It is the name assigned to the newest COVID-19 “variant of concern” in the United States, along with the delta variant. Despite the attention focused on omicron, the delta variant is still the dominant variant of rapidly increasing cases in our country and here in Westfield.

A variant of concern is one that shows evidence of increased transmission, more severe disease, reduction of antibodies, reduced effectiveness of treatment or vaccines and testing failures. So far, omicron seems to be producing milder illness than expected but twice the transmissibility of delta. This is speculation. There is simply not enough data yet. Omicron does have many spike proteins associated with less susceptibility to therapeutics, immunity escape and increased transmissibility, compared to delta.

Omicron is the main cause of new COVID cases in South Africa, first identified in November. The first case of omicron was confirmed in the U.S. on Dec. 1. It has now been identified in 19 states and many countries. It is estimated by scientists that it will take about a month to gather data and fully identify the damage this variant is capable of. One good thing about omicron is that booster shots have increased dramatically after the Thanksgiving holiday and the emergence of this variant.

Current vaccines are expected to protect against omicron. Pfizer just announced, after a small study, those who received the booster vaccine had significant protection against the omicron variant. The study suggests that those without the booster may not have sufficient immunity. If needed, vaccine researchers and manufacturers are prepared to develop a new version of the vaccine that will provide protection to an arising variant.

My sons and grandson have tried to educate me over the years regarding alternate universes in movies, fiction, comics and video games. I believe I finally get it. I feel my life at work is an alternate universe inundated with COVID, high stress and emotions. My drive home propels me into my parallel universe. It seems, outside of work, unless directly affected, people just don’t understand what it is really happening. At home, I read in the paper about a mother complaining that her child has to wear a mask to play sports. At work, we send a young athlete to the emergency department with low oxygen levels, signs of cardiac damage on his ECG and a positive COVID-19 test.

Case numbers in Westfield have been rising steadily for the last several weeks to 194 (70 percent unvaccinated), with a deplorable vaccine rate of 55 percent last week. Massachusetts hospitals are overwhelmed, at 80 percent hospital bed capacity this week. Waiting times in emergency departments are higher than ever before.

At our meeting, someone commented that it doesn’t seem to affect anyone they know with anything but mild symptoms. Someone else said the death rate for children wasn’t that high. Isn’t one child’s unnecessary death too many? Don’t the 792,000-plus deaths just in the United States, now more than the Civil War, speak volumes? Facts, statistics, science, emergency departments and urgent cares are clear evidence of what is happening in this world.

Whether it is delta, omicron or other new emerging variants of concern, this pandemic is getting worse when it should be getting better. We cannot say, as many love to say, that this pandemic is winding down. We have the strength and resources within each of us, as members of this community, to change these conditions. The best tool to fight this virus is the vaccine. It is capable of protecting us from serious disease, hospitalizations and deaths. It slows transmission and reduces the emergence of new variants.

Please know our goal is to keep you healthy. Wear your mask, get vaccinated, encourage and educate others with science, use hand sanitizer, avoid large gatherings. Make it your goal to help this community increase its vaccination rate and decrease our number of COVID cases. No one wishes illness and death upon others. We need to work together, not against each other, to fight this viral illness, death and the ubiquitous consequences of this pandemic. It is not about politics, it is all about public health.

Take care of yourself and someone else.

Dedicated health department members have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, as well as Board of Health members Juanita Carnes, FNP, Margaret Doody, and Stan Strzempko, M.D.

We keep working to keep you safe.

To Top