‘Guam is prepared for omicron variant’

DPHSS COVID-19 testing (PNC file photo)

Although there is still much that is not known about the omicron COVID variant, the chairman of the Governor’s Physicians Advisory Group said they’re prepared to face this new variant and confident that they can deal with it, just as they did with the delta variant.

“First of all, I think everybody has done very well with delta. Yes, unfortunately, there were deaths and people have gotten sick. But if you look at it overall, we didn’t do so badly,” Dr. Nathaniel Berg said in an interview with NewsTalk K57’s Pauly Suba.

It is this experience with the highly transmissible delta variant and Guam’s current success in almost snuffing the delta threat that makes Dr. Berg and his physicians group confident that the island can get a handle on the new omicron variant as long as people continue to get vaccinated and continue to practice COVID safety procedures like wearing masks and keeping their distance.

Although it has been hypothesized that the omicron mutation may have an effect on the current COVID vaccines, a number of US experts say that even if the vaccines’ effect on the omicron variant weakens, the vaccines would still offer some level of protection.

Thus, Dr. Berg said vaccination would still be the best defense against the new variant.

“I think that it’s reasonable to be extremely hopeful that this virus variant will be susceptible in some ways to the vaccines that are out there. We have people saying, oh, we don’t know if vaccination can protect us. Sure, but we’ll deal with that if that happens. And we do have tools right now. And so I want the community of Guam to understand that our best defense is to get vaccinated and to get that third booster dose,” the doctor said.

He added: “We’ll come together as a community as we have done in the past. We’ll fight this just like we’ve done now twice.”

According to Dr. Berg, over the weekend, even the US CDC expressed praise for Guam and said Guam has done an unbelievable job in terms of getting the initial vaccine out that the island is now north of 90 percent vaccinated.

Because of GovGuam’s experience with the initial COVID surge, and the subsequent surges that occurred up to the current delta surge, Berg said the island’s healthcare workers now have broad institutional knowledge on what to do in case of another surge.

“I can assure you that vaccination is going to be the main push of Public Health preparation. I can assure you from the government side that the effort is going to be made to make vaccination even more easily available. And we’re going to do this quickly. But we also need people to really act with some concern, not fear, but some concern, and go out and get that third booster dose or get your kids vaccinated as quickly as possible,” the doctor said.

Berg said people should also keep in mind that treatment for COVID-19 is now available through the monoclonal antibodies treatment.

Constant and even increased testing is another weapon against the new omicron variant. Berg said testing and early identification are important.

“People need to again look out for their loved ones as much as themselves. Testing is free and readily available. Any early illness is still a reason to go get tested and the results are fast and you’ll know whether or not you should get early treatment with the immunoglobulin therapy which remains free and available and will prevent almost everybody from getting hospitalized or dying,” the doctor said.

He added: “I think at this point, we’re okay. It’s natural that people are highly concerned. But we don’t want to overreact. At the same time, we also don’t want to ignore it. And I think we’re doing that right now. People are coming together in this healthcare community. We are thinking this through very carefully and we’re ready.”

According to Berg, this is not the first time that a scary announcement came from the southern part of the African continent.

“There were others that were also very scary. But they didn’t turn out to cause major problems other than being highly contagious. And the other thing is, I think we can pat ourselves on the back a little bit as a community and say we came through the delta virus. We did a good job with it and again, with all due respect to those who got sick and died, we did a pretty good job. Our hospitals got packed, but not overwhelmed,” the doctor said.

Thus, if the omicron variant lands on Guam’s shores, Berg said Guam will have an advantage that many other nations don’t have.

“If omicron does come, we can fight it, and fight it without fighting delta as well. And that’s going to be helpful. I think that some countries like Germany and Holland and other European countries, they’re in the middle of their delta surge right now. And they’ve got to fight delta and omicron at the same time. That’s why I think England and other countries are reacting slightly differently than the US because they’re really nervous. They already are in the middle of a nasty surge. But we’ve been through that. We’re pretty much towards the end of delta. So we can at least be a little happier than those countries in that we would be only fighting one variant at a time,” Dr. Berg said.