Here’s what Arizonans need to know about the coronavirus variant omicron

By Stephanie Innes and Melina Walling| Arizona Republic

A newly detected variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 could complicate efforts to control the pandemic, but Arizona public health officials say more investigation is needed to clearly understand the situation.

“Omicron, with a high number of mutations, is indeed concerning, hence the attention from public health leaders worldwide,” Arizona Department of Health Services interim director Don Herrington wrote in a blog post on Monday afternoon. “But too much remains unknown for it to be more than that at this time.”

The omicron variant, first detected in South Africa, is an added threat during a pandemic that in Arizona already has caused three major waves of illness, hospitalization and death.

The latest wave, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, has persisted since the summer and is putting pressure on a health system contending with severe staffing shortages.

Last week, hospital leaders in Arizona pleaded with the public to get the COVID-19 vaccine to help preserve medical resources.

As of Sunday, more than one-third of Arizona’s intensive care unit beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients. At the same time, hospital leaders are dealing with more patients because of winter visitors, increased non-COVID patient demand and a looming flu season.

Here’s what we know about omicron so far:

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