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Omicron threat in the U.S: 'We can presume it's here,' physician says

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Dr. Manish Garg, Emergency Medicine Physician & Co-Founder of World Academic Council of Emergency Medicine, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Video Transcript

JARED BLIKRE: Welcome back. The search for Omicron in US airports intensifies with federal health officials, quote, "actively looking for the variant," but no cases so far. We still want to talk about this very important issue with Dr. Manish Garg, Emergency Medicine Physician and Co-Founder of World Academic Council of Emergency Medicine. Thank you for joining us, doctor. What's the latest here? And what are the prospects of finding it and then developing some kind of solution, or at least understanding of it?

MANISH GARG: Yeah, thanks, Jared. Thanks for having me on the show again. You know, I have to say that right now, we're still in the process of figuring this out. But since we know that it's in Southern Africa, it's in different areas in Europe, they found a case in Canada, we can presume that we have it here.

One of the things that we need to do from a public health strategy standpoint is make sure that we are doing appropriate testing. Some of these COVID viruses have the ability to evade tests. But currently, that's not what we're finding, that it's able to be found. So we need to be really good about making sure we're doing testing and then make sure we do the thing that's important, which is protect everybody-- get vaccinated.

ADAM SHAPIRO: We're getting initial information that symptoms are-- some people are asymptomatic, don't have any symptoms, and that those with symptoms appear to be mild. Do we have enough data yet to determine whether these are people who've been vaccinated or what the actual severity of this variant truly is on those who are vaccinated or unvaccinated?

MANISH GARG: Yeah, thanks, Adam. So right now, we don't know for sure. We know that those who have Omicron are showing fatigue, just kind of general tiredness, headache, body aches, sore throat, cough. Whereas with Delta, there was definitely that loss of smell, loss of taste, low oxygen level. So it's hard to tell by symptoms, because the overlap with the general virus is definitely present.

So you know, these are all viruses. When you have some of these symptoms, you know that you're sick. You don't know whether it's a cold virus, a flu virus. One of the things about Delta and the original COVID strains were that you would have that loss of taste, loss of smell, and then guaranteed we know that you have it. So we're still kind of identifying all of the different pieces of it.

Like you mentioned, it seems like it's very contagious. And as was mentioned by our first speaker, we know that as the evolution of viruses happened, they basically go from being more contagious and a little bit less lethal.

JARED BLIKRE: And when we think about a timetable for getting information, and gathering information, and being able to process it, Biden and various health officials have said two weeks. Give us two weeks and we'll know more then. But when is the information going to really start trickling in? Are we going to have it this weekend? Monday? Can you paint us a timetable here?

MANISH GARG: Oh, I would love to be able to forecast that, Jared. You know, I buy a couple of weeks. It might be a little bit longer. Again, there's a few different things we have to look for. We have to look for how it does with our testing. We have to look for how it does with evading vaccines. We have to look at how it does with our therapeutics and is it able to evade that. My, I guess, prognostication on this is that we're probably going to be looking at 2 to 4 weeks.

And this is really important, because we're getting into the winter months, we're getting in the holiday months. People are staying in. They're close to one another. There's a high likelihood that people can get sick. We're trying to get that childhood vaccine-- we're trying to work really hard from a public health standpoint to get those folks vaccinated.

So it's really important. Time is of the essence. And obviously, we want to know as much as we can about this virus and then, certainly, like, how it's going to respond.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Could we be overdoing it with the cautions? I mean, state of emergency in the state of New York-- I don't mind wearing, I don't think many of us mind wearing masks inside. But is this more alarm than is necessary?

MANISH GARG: You know, there's that really sensitive alarm to reassurance continuum. Here's what I'll say about that, Adam-- the WHO in this pandemic has been pretty accurate in terms of what they've been talking about in terms of upgrading viruses to viruses of concern or variants of concern. This did seem a little premature to me when I was just kind of seeing.

Typically, you would have to have good numbers of cases before something gets lifted up to the variant of concern. You'd have to have really good biological data from looking at the lab testing. So I think what I would say is that, yes, I think we're being overly cautious and overly vigilant.

But the track record with the WHO and what they've had for this has been pretty legitimate. So I guess we know how to protect one another, right? We know that there are layers of protection-- making sure vaccinated, boosted, especially right now, making sure we're wearing masks, distancing, those types of things. I think this is a really good reminder for everyone that it's probably a good idea for us to be taking these extra precautions and protecting those in our society that really can't protect themselves-- or choose not to.

JARED BLIKRE: All right, we appreciate your time here, doctor. We have to leave it there. Dr. Manish Garg, emergency medicine physician.