DPHSS suspects Omicron responsible for fourth surge–at least, in part

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Department of Public Health and Social Services (PNC file photo)

Officials at the Department of Public Health and Social Services are almost certain that the current COVID surge is at least in part a result of Omicron. “The initial uptick,” says Dr. Robert Leon Guerrero, Acting Chief Medical Officer for DPHSS, “I thought was most likely due to Delta–but yes, we are probably getting Omicron. We just don’t have the proof.”

Leadership in Guam, such as Governor Lou Leon Guerrero and Dr. Nathaniel Berg, chair of the Physicians Advisory Group, have said that though there is no solid proof that Omicron is on the island, they will be acting as though it already is here.

The surge began shortly after the holidays and has been rising rapidly since after Christmas. Case counts do drop significantly on New Year and January 2nd, but that is likely because public testing sites were closed. “Early part of December,” says Dr. Ann Pubotsky, Territorial Epidemiologist at DPHSS, “we didn’t see much until right after Christmas–and there [from December 27, 2021] are our cases jumping, into early January.”

The data certainly suggest that the current wave is Omicron. For one, the speed at which it spreads is more consistent with Omicron than with Delta.

The Joint Information Center has already released data that reveals that the current wave has produced the highest single-day new case count since October, when Delta was the dominant strain.

For another, the number of COVID ICU patients suggests that the current surge is milder than former surges. Furthermore, the number of people who required during this surge has been comparatively low.

Dr. Pubotsky continues, “We have seen an uptick in hospitalization, but we’re not really seeing a huge bump in ICU [admissions] or in deaths, which is good.” In the previous surge, hospital cases were greater than 20 and ICU admissions were greater than 8. Dr. Pubotsky says we’re not seeing those numbers yet.

This could be because Omicron is milder or because hospitalizations tend to lag 2 weeks from case incidence.

Doubt

There is still some doubt, however. For one, as PNC previously reported, Omicron has immune evasion (or immune escape) to monoclonal antibody therapy; in other words, that specific COVID therapy is not effective against Omicron. According to Dr. Leon Guerrero, “People that go to the monoclonal antibody clinics are mostly getting better. That usually means Delta, because Omicron doesn’t usually respond well to monoclonal antibodies.”

He reports that about 90% of people responded to monoclonal antibodies.

As of publication, there is no confirmed case. Part of the reason for the delay in confirmation is that Guam does not have the resources for genomic sequencing. The nearest place is Hawaii and the results for the last samples has not been released to DPHSS.

All things considered, Dr. Leon Guerrero says that it is likely already here.