Guam Public Health concerned over omicron variant

(Fox News photo/graphic)

The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services on Thursday expressed concern over the new omicron COVID-19 variant and urged those who are still unvaccinated to get vaccinated and get their booster shots.

Dr. Robert Leon Guerrero, DPHSS interim chief medical officer, said the omicron variant is causing an increase in COVID cases in Europe and has already reached the United States.

“They’ve already had one confirmed case in California. So that’s kind of concerning. And so my message is, you know, although we’re down, we still need to make sure that we still wear our masks, wash our hands, and social distance,” Leon Guerrero said during a media briefing Thursday morning.

The doctor also encouraged people who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated and those who have been fully vaccinated to get their booster shots.

Chief Public Health Officer Chima Mbakwen said the CDC team visiting Guam is also helping Guam Public Health to monitor omicron variant developments and that the plan to develop an isolation facility is still on.

“With the new variant coming in, I think vaccination has proven to add another layer of protection. So as we go into the holiday season, people should get vaccinated. Remember to always wear your mask and keep your distance,” Mbakwem said.

Dr. Ann Pobutsky, the territorial epidemiologist, said omicron has already been classified as a variant of concern.

“And so we’re watching what’s going on. The problem is we don’t know a lot about it yet, because they’re still studying whether it affects people more vaccinated versus unvaccinated. They just don’t know yet. They don’t even know how severe it is or if people will die when they catch it. So they’re still studying it and we might know more in a couple of weeks. But they do know that it has like an extra thing on the spiky protein. So that’s why they’re worried about it. And it seems to be very contagious. But we really don’t know a lot right now. They’ve just had the first case in the US. It’s in Canada, it’s in Japan. It’s all over Europe. So we’re watching it, and putting together our preparedness plans,” Pobutsky said.

Dr. Leon Guerrero also urged the parents of five-to-11-year-olds to get their children vaccinated because the omicron variant appears to be more widespread among children.

“There are some hints in South Africa. There’s an increase in the risk of hospitalization in children with this new variant. So it is concerning that this seems to be making more children hospitalized and sicker than previous variants,” Leon Gerrero said.

As a sign of its concern, DPHSS has already sent 73 samples last Nov. 27 to the CDC for genetic sequencing, mere days after the emergence of the omicron variant during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Mbakwem added that they are just waiting for formal approval of a CDC plan to implement stricter air travel requirements which they can adopt as an additional measure against the omicron variant.