So far, the newest COVID-19 variant has not been detected in Virginia. But that doesn’t mean that the state and the New River Valley are home free.

The variant, now in the United States, eventually will make its way to Virginia and the region, said Noelle Bissell, health director for the New River Health District on Dec. 6 during a meeting with the news media.

Virginia labs evaluated COVID-19 test samples from the past two weeks, looking for the omicron variant. The labs, including the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke, are sequencing about one in seven COVID-19 PCR tests in search of the variant.

Currently, the delta variant exclusively is in COVID-19 cases in the district, Bissell said. The variant came to the region this past summer.

Though scientists still are evaluating how severe and transmissible the omicron variant is, evidence suggests that it may lead to a less severe illness, but it may be more transmissible.

“That’s how they [variants] evolve,” Bissell said. “We will continue to follow the course. At this point, COVID is pretty much everywhere. I think we’re accepting that it’s not going to go away.”

Health officials continue to encourage people to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and to take other layered mitigation measures to decrease the spread of the virus, such as regular hand washing, distancing from others when necessary, and wearing a mask indoors and in areas with poor ventilation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends boosters for the COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 and older who are fully vaccinated.

There are a few other respiratory illnesses circulating in the district. Along with cases of COVID-19 and the flu, there has been a rise in the contagious whooping cough or pertussis, Bissell said.

There is a vaccine for pertussis that people often receive as children and its booster form is part of the tetanus shot. For protection, Bissell recommends that people receive a tetanus shot if they do not remember the last time they had one.

She also reminded people to be vigilant with public health measures as they enter the holiday season. The district expects to see an uptick in COVID-19 positive cases as a result of people who gathered to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday last month.

“Our best advice remains that everyone has to do a personal risk assessment of how much risk they are willing to accept and tolerate,” she said.

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