UC San Diego scientists said Sunday night theyre hustling to find samples of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus to help in the worldwide effort to assess whether it is more transmissible and harmful than earlier versions of the virus.
Its possible that the new variant could be discovered this week in San Diego County through the genetic analysis that UC San Diego is doing on positive coronavirus tests, a campus official said.
The county health department and some hospitals also are conducting such testing.
Its only a matter of time and testing before we find it here, said Dr. Davey Smith, head of infectious diseases at UC San Diego, which was one of the first universities to broadly test students, faculty and staff for COVID-19.
UC San Diego scientists also helped to conduct COVID-19 vaccine trials on behalf of Moderna, Johnson & Johnson nd AstraZeneca, and it has been testing therapeutic drugs on patients.
Scripps Research also said late Sunday that it is geared up to evaluate Omicrons potential threat to public health.
Smith said scientists are just beginning to understand Omicron, but added, The vaccines we have now should work quite well against it. People should be getting vaccinated, and getting their boosters.
UC San Diego has about 8,500 international students, most of whom will resume the fall quarter on Monday. Some of the students traveled back to their home countries during the Thanksgiving break. The university hosts many students from overseas, including the United Kingdom, which has reported Omicron cases.
But campus officials say the school is likely to continue having a tiny infection rate because it will be screening all dorm students for the virus. UC San Diego also has been strongly enforcing social-distancing rules.
Before the start of the Thanksgiving holiday, the infection rate among students who access the campus was 0.22 percent.
But there is a lot of uneasiness about the new variant.
Were hampered by the fact that nothing is yet in the peer reviewed scientific literature, said Robert Chip Schooley, who leads UC San Diegos Return to Learn program.
Ive been in contact with a colleague from Hong Kong that I trust and respect more than anyone in virology. He has been working with the virus in his laboratory and has been observing it epidemiologically.
His take is that it is, indeed, highly contagious but that vaccinated people who become infected have relatively mild (breakthrough-like) symptoms.
Schooley said he believes the virus is more aggressive about shutting down the innate immune response than the Alpha and Delta variants, which he said will allow it to grow to much higher tiers during the pre-symptomatic phase. This, in turn, will result in higher transmissibility and (likely) more severe disease in the unvaccinated, he said
Schooley added, Were not currently planning on changing our policies vis--vis holiday travel but, as with other aspects of our adaptive response posture we will be monitoring the situation on a daily basis and modifying our approach as conditions dictate.
UC San Diego hustling to find Omicron variant of coronavirus to help assess threat to public health - The San Diego Union-Tribune
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