On Wednesday, the Erie County Department of Health announced six cases of COVID-19 with the Omicron variant have been identified in Erie County.

The variant was identified in specimens received from members of a local organization for which Gannon University performs regular surveillance testing. Gannon researchers confirmed the variant through genomic sequencing that was completed Sunday.

The university developed the capability to sequence COVID-19 samples for variants a few months ago.

“The department appreciates very much that our community partners such as Gannon University continues to work closely with us,” said Melissa Lyon, director of the Erie County Department of Health. “Public health is a shared and continuing effort. It takes all of our work to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic

Prevalence

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released estimates that the prevalence of Omicron in Pennsylvania will be 75.8 percent for the four weeks leading up to Dec 18.   

Much of what is known about the Omicron variant, such as how infectious it is and how severe the illnesses it causes can be, is preliminary and subject to change. According to the CDC, the Omicron variant may cause an increase in infections because of how easily it spreads and its ability to cause infections in people who are fully vaccinated, have received boosters and/or have natural immunity from previous COVID-19 disease.

Protection

Current vaccines, including boosters, are expected to protect against severe illness, the likelihood of needing hospitalization and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant, just as they have remained effective with other variants, such as Delta. The Erie County Department of Health said breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur.

The Erie County Department of Health strongly recommends that all Erie County residents 5 years and older who are eligible to become vaccinated, including getting boosters. If having concerns or questions, people can contact healthcare professionals or contact the Erie County Department of Health at (814) 451-6700 for facts and answers.

Importance of getting tested

Unvaccinated or vaccinated, testing for COVID-19 is recommended if exposed to anyone who has COVID-19 or if exhibiting its symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing, fever or chills, muscle or body aches, vomiting or diarrhea, sore throat or loss of taste or smell. Testing results can help determine appropriate care and treatment if needed.

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Stay home

To prevent the spread of infection to others, community members should stay home while waiting for test results. Individuals whose test results are positive, even if they do not have symptoms, should:

  • stay home
  • stay apart from others in their homes and, if possible, use a separate bathroom
  • inform their close contacts to stay home and get tested

For guidance on quarantine and isolation, call the Erie County Department of Health at (814) 451-6700.

Wear masks

Wearing a mask that covers the mouth and nose has been proven to reduce the spread of infectious respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19. Studies on the effects of wearing masks have proven there is no change in oxygen or carbon dioxide levels when people wear cloth or surgical masks while resting and exercising.

Erie County currently has a high rate of transmission, according to the CDC. CDC guidelines recommend all people, including those who are fully vaccinated, should wear masks indoors in areas with substantial to high transmission rates of COVID-19.