Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Southeast Iowa health officials say the newly detected Omicron variant of COVID-19 is tough to prepare for, having little information to work with.
“We just don’t know enough about it yet,” Henry County Public Health Director Shelley Van Dorin said. “It’s ever-changing. That’s frustrating as a public health official and as the public, but we can’t tell people what we don’t know.”
For now, Van Dorin said waiting on information was the only preparation possible.
“(We are) staying updated with the guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health, and we attend webinars as needed, and we will release information as soon as we know more,” she said. “Like we’ve done through this whole pandemic, we wait until we get the information, and then we’re usually ready to go.”
As a result, most COVID-19 public health guidelines are unchanged by the new variant.
“The mitigation practices remain the same, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, staying home if you’re sick, understanding your own risk factors” Said Jefferson County Public Health Administrator Christ Estle, who is also the interim public health Director of Washington County. “Especially with the booster shots now available, we’re encouraging everybody to get their boost dose, regardless of what that looks like. If it’s six months after their Pfizer, Moderna, we’re just encouraging that process.”
Still, one measure has already been ramped up across the country: travel precautions.
“The thing that we’re watching is the travel guidance,” Estle said. “If someone has traveled to the countries that have been identified, the CDC will notify public health departments and then local public health is responsible for the follow-up with the individuals arriving in said counties.”
Despite lingering unknowns about the severity of contagiousness of the variant, Estle said best practices would inherently help, even if the extent of that help is unclear.
“These precautions are the same with any respiratory illness, and I cannot stress that enough,” she said. “Whether it’s influenza, RSV, just the common cold, we need to take precautions.”
Omicron or otherwise, Estle said she expected case counts to go back up around the holiday season.
“We will see another spike after this Thanksgiving holiday, and then we’ll see another spike after the Christmas holiday,” she said. “When everybody’s around, kids coming home, international travel, I mean it’s a given: you’re just going to see an increase in respiratory illness.”