RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia's health commissioner said vaccinations remain they key defense as the U.S. prepares to potentially face a double coronavirus surge as the omicron variant advances.
State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver noted Friday that there are relatively few (3600) cases of the omicron variant in the U.S.
"We only have a couple of cases that we've identified in the Commonwealth of Virginia," Oliver said. "That being said, what little we know about this variant of the virus from Southern Africa and Europe and other countries is that it appears to be more transmissible. It spreads more quickly between individuals. And if that is true, we can expect that it will become a dominant variant."
Oliver said a similar thing happened with the delta variant, which started off with relatively few cases before it became the dominant strain of the virus.
Vaccination is still key to being protected even though Oliver acknowledged there will be more breakthrough cases than with delta.
"There are more breakthrough cases it appears with omicron," Oliver said. "But the breakthrough cases, that is people who are vaccinated who get COVID-19 from the omicron variant, have very mild disease."
As a result, Oliver is urging those who have not been vaccinated to get the shot.
"The omicron variant is also susceptible to our vaccine. Getting vaccinated will protect you from the omicron variant," Oliver said. "And if you have been vaccinated, get the booster, because that increases your immunity to delta variant and to the omicron variant."
Advice for holiday get-togethers: Keep it small
Oliver offered advice for folks planning holiday get-togethers since he said those gatherings "increase your risk of getting exposed to COVID-19."
In addition to being vaccinated, Oliver said masking indoors is crucial, especially if you are not vaccinated.
"If you're indoors, in addition to wearing a mask, make sure that you're in a well-ventilated space," Oliver said. "That helps reduce your risk. And continue to do things like wash your hands frequently."
Another tip is to try to keep gatherings there as small as possible.
"The larger the number of people that you're around, the higher your risk of being exposed," Oliver said. "If you do all of those things... I think you can have time with family friends and loved ones this holiday season."
That said, Oliver said he knows the public has COVID fatigue.
"All of us are sick and tired of COVID-19. And, you know, throw up our hands and say, 'I'm done with it.' But unfortunately COVID-19 is not done with us," Oliver said. "So I think the most important message to get across to people is that it's we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible. That's the way to put this pandemic behind this."
Frontline workers have been at it 'non-stop 24/7 for going on 23 months'
Oliver also noted that the pandemic has been rough for the department of health and other medical and frontline workers.
"They've been at it, non-stop 24/7 for going on 23 months now," Oliver said. "So people are tired, they're fatigued. But it's a very dedicated group of people. And they've shown their resilience throughout this entire pandemic by coming back day after day to continue to fight."
Oliver hopes to continue in his post, but has not yet talked to Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin.
"We have thousands of VDH employees, many, many thousands of volunteers, healthcare workers and hospital systems, clinics and community-based offices who are the frontline eally helping us on fighting COVID-19," Oliver said. "All the pharmacies that have been giving the majority of vaccinations in the state, all of those people are not changing. There's no transition there. They will continue their work in battling against COVID-19."
Oliver said Virginia remains number one among southern states for the number of people vaccinated.
"Almost 14 million doses have been administered in this state. We have over 80% of the population (18+) that has gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. I think that all that work that we've done will continue going forward," Oliver said. "And Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin himself is vaccinated, so I'm sure that he also believes it's something that other people should do as well."
Virginians age 5+ are eligible for COVID-19 vaccine. Pre-registration is no longer required, so go to Vaccine Finder to search for specific vaccines available near you or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343).
Have You Been Fully Vaccinated?
People are considered fully vaccinated:
- 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
- 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine
How to Protect Yourself and Others When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated
COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick. Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.
We’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. After you’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you should keep taking precautions—like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces—in public places until we know more.
These recommendations can help you make decisions about daily activities after you are fully vaccinated. They are not intended for healthcare settings.