UB: Omicron COVID-19 variant detected in Erie County; first time detected in Western New York

Posted at 3:51 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 19:57:30-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Health officials from the University at Buffalo say that the omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected in Erie County, marking the first time omicron has been detected in the Western New York region.

Omicron was first detected in New York State on December 2.

According to the scientists at UB, omicron was detected in samples of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in December.

ub lab on omicron test.jpeg
Inside UB lab were testing is conducted to detect Omicron.

“Based on what other countries and other parts of New York State are experiencing, the omicron variant is more transmissible than previous SARS-CoV-2 viral strains,” said Erie County Commissioner of Health Gale Burstein, MD.

“Whether this variant causes more severe illness or not, we expect that this variant will have the strongest impact on people most vulnerable to COVID-19 – unvaccinated or immunocompromised,” added Burstein, who is also a clinical professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “This is all the more reason to use all the tools in our toolkit to protect the most vulnerable in our community, with vaccination, mask wearing and other interventions.”

It's unclear how many cases of the omicron variant have been detected in Western New York.

"This does not come as a surprise. We were confident that Omicron has been here in Western New York for a while, but this is formal confirmation," Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, said, "Given how infectious Omicron is, given that immunity from prior infection and vaccination has been waning, the risk of getting infected is greater than ever."

Doctors warned the message that the Omicron variant may be milder is very dangerous.

"The message that it’s milder than Delta is not a good message. People often think, well it’s milder. But they’re all COVID," Dr. Raul Vazquez, a physician at Urban Family Practice, said, "While they’re saying mild, these people are still going to show up in emergency rooms and in hospitals. If we don’t have the capacity to manage those individuals, it can be a pretty bad thing. While yeah, if you develop respiratory symptoms we have treatments for you, if those treatments are being used by someone else, and we can’t get to you, it can be a really bad place for our us at least in the next couple weeks."

Doctors said the best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated and boosted.

"It’s critical to do so to optimize protection and minimize bad outcomes. That’s particularly important for those who are the most vulnerable," Dr. Russo said.