Over 1 million Marylanders have received a booster shot, and a greater emphasis is being placed on testing as the state prepares for the arrival of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday.
The omicron variant — which was first identified in South Africa but has since been detected in countries around the world, including the U.S. — has been identified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.
European health officials said the threat of the omicron variant was determined to be “high to very high,” due to the sheer number of mutations it possesses compared to other strains.
Hogan said the state is working to increase its testing capacity and encouraged residents to get tested if they feel sick, no matter how mild. He stressed that one of the best ways to fight variants is through rigorous testing.
“The way we can detect variants is through more people getting tested,” Hogan said. “Getting tested remains one of the most important things that you can do to protect yourself, your family and your fellow Marylanders.”
Hogan said Maryland will be working closely with the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins to sequence tests and check for variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.
It is currently not known how much more transmissible omicron is compared with strains like delta, or how severe the illness it causes is. Experts also don’t yet know how vaccines hold up against omicron.
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Hogan stressed that he did not believe that Maryland would have to return to some of the stricter measures put in place in the state toward the beginning of the pandemic, but that it was too soon to say for sure whether additional action would be needed.
“We are not intending to return to any of those measures here in the state of Maryland,” Hogan said. “I can’t imagine that that would be something that the vast majority of the public, after 21 months, is somewhat fatigued by some of the measures that had to be taken at the early part of this. But again, we don’t know what we’re gonna find out over the next couple of weeks right now.”
If a modified vaccine is required for the new variant, scientists say the current mRNA vaccines could be adjusted quickly to account for new mutations, but would still take between six months and a year before they were ready for distribution.
Hogan said the state is focusing heavily on getting vaccines and boosters out to the residents who still have not received them. On Wednesday, Hogan also announced that Maryland had distributed over 1 million booster shots to its residents.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant in the United States was found in California on Wednesday, but both Maryland and Virginia had already stressed the importance of testing and vaccination to residents.