There are a lot of unknowns about the Omicron, a new variant of COVID-19 that was first detected in Africa and has now spread to other countries, including Canada. There have been no identified cases associated with the Omicron variant in the U.S. to date.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Patsy Kelso of the Vermont Department of Health says the virus spreads the same way as COVID and tghe more contagious delta variant: “Person to person, through the air or droplets when we talk or cough or sneeze”

Kelso said this new variant has more mutations than the others.  

“It doesn’t mean it’s better or worse, it just means that it has different mutations than the previous variants,” Dr. Kelso said. “There is some indication that it might be more easily spread from person to person.”

In a statement, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said vaccines, including booster shots for those who are eligible, are still our best defense against COVID-19. 

“Now is the time,” he said. “Both take about two weeks to be fully effective, and as we get further into the holiday season, the more people who are protected, the better off we will all be.”  

World leaders, including President Joe Biden, have begun restricting travel from South Africa. But Dr. Tim Lahey, infectious disease specialist at UVM Medical Center, said “it’s unlikely that a travel ban is going to stop the spread of something that can float from the air.

“Really a virus is unaware of international borders.” 

Dr. Lahey said there’s a lot we still need to learn about Omicron and what it could mean for the rest of the holiday season.

“We will find out more and can change plans if we need to, but right now it’s the tried and true advice to get vaccinated and wear a mask,” Dr. Lahey said.