ATLANTA — Researchers in the United States and around the world are running tests on the omicron variant of the coronavirus, working to learn more about its effects and how well vaccines can hold up against it.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, there were two confirmed cases of the omicron variant in Georgia. Meanwhile, delta remains the dominant strain behind nearly all of the state's cases.
Georgia continues to see a relatively low number of new COVID-19 cases, with the state reporting around 700 new infections since Friday. That's lower than the state's current case average, which sits around 1,300. Georgia's positivity rate remains in the 4% range, which is more than three times lower than before delta hit during the summer months.
There has been a slight uptick in hospitalizations since the Thanksgiving holiday. Right now, just more than 1,000 people, or about 6% of Georgians with COVID, have the virus and are being treated in the hospital.
Despite the number of new COVID cases inching up, vaccinations are also increasing in Georgia. The state reported 52% of Georgians were fully vaccinated, with 59% getting at least one dose of the vaccine.
"I'm also going to get the booster," Michelle Woodall said. "I'll wait just a little bit because now we have that other variant that just came out."
Woodall was headed back home to Texas from Atlanta, but she voiced concerns about the spread of the new omicron variant. Out of precaution, she wore two masks to the airport. She's also vaccinated.
Mako Medical, a private company, does about 30,000 COVID tests per day, sequencing positive cases. Matthew Tugwell, Mako's director of genomics, said the company has found about 10 cases of omicron nationwide. He said Mako is sending three of those omicron-positive samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional testing.
"That’s kind of the first step in doing anything about mitigation strategies of this virus," Tugwell said. "It’s understanding how many people are positive out there, and then what are they positive with? Is it delta, omicron? As we collect more samples and get them in the right hands, we’ll have those answers we’re looking for in terms of the vaccine’s efficacy.”
Dr. Jodie Guest, vice chair of epidemiology at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, said a combination of masking, frequent testing and vaccinations would help fight the new variant and the existing ones.
"We still have a lot of reason to believe these vaccines will work well against the Omicron variant, because we’re seeing very mild infection for those who have been fully vaccinated and even more mild for those who have had boosters," Guest said. "This is the way we’re going to stop mutations from occurring and this is the way we’re going to stop severe illnesses from happening, and from losing people every single day from a vaccine-preventable illness.”
The White House implemented new travel restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread of the omicron variant. Anyone traveling internationally to the United States must show proof of a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours of departure. The only exception is if someone can show that they have recovered from COVID within the last 90 days. A mask mandate also remains in effect on domestic flights and on public transportation through March 18.