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CORONAVIRUS

R.I. does not have any positive cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant yet

“If we over-react, we lose credibility. If we under-react, we lose precious time,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room doctor and public health professor at Brown University, about the new variant.

A passenger gets swabbed for COVID-19 at a testing site in Providence, R.I.David Goldman/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island has not identified any positive coronavirus cases that have been linked to the new variant Omicron as of Monday morning, according to Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health.

The new variant was first identified in South Africa, and the World Health Organization on Friday deemed the new COVID-19 mutation — technically known as B.1.1.529, but dubbed “Omicrom” — a “variant of concern.” Only a few dozen cases of the variant have been identified in South Africa, as well as Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel.

“The Governor’s Office and the Rhode Island Department of Health are closely monitoring Omicron variant developments,” Alana O’Hare, the governor’s press secretary, told the Globe on Monday.

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This new variant comes after the Delta variant, which is believed to account for nearly 100 percent of the newest cases of COVID-19 in the US, arrived earlier this year. In Rhode Island, 2,864 cases of the Delta variant have been identified by the state health department, which sequences a portion of positive COVID-19 cases every week to screen for SARS-CoV-2 variants. O’Hare said the State Health Laboratories’ genomic surveillance on samples would also identify the Omicron variant.

“Due to high vaccination rates, additional hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients is not needed at this time,” said O’Hare. “Further actions will be considered as we work closely with the Department of Health and communicate with federal partners.”

O’Hare did not address whether Governor Dan McKee was considering reinstating mask orders or authorizing additional vaccine mandates.

Rhode Island is among the states with the highest vaccination rates in the country. Approximately 94 percent of Rhode Island adults 18 and older are at least partially vaccinated, and more than 82 percent of all eligible Rhode Islanders, including those age 5 and older, are at least partially vaccinated.

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It’s still unclear how transmissible the new variant is and if it causes more-severe cases of COVID-19. But the nation’s top infectious disease experts said the emerging new variant should not cause panic.

“We should not be freaking out. We should be doing the things we know work,’’ said Dr. Anthony Fauci on CBS This Morning on Monday. “We should be concerned, and our concern should spur us to do the things we know work. So rather than panicking, rather than freaking out, we should just do the right thing.”

In Rhode Island, Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room doctor and professor of emergency medicine and public health at Brown University, wrote on Twitter, “The variant may still turn out to be nothing. Or it could be everything.”

“If we over-react, we lose credibility. If we under-react, we lose precious time. The big question is: will we use what we know to do better this time, than we did in March 2020, or Jan 2021, or May 2021,” she wrote and recommended that Americans get vaccinated, continue to get tested for COVID-19, keep up with contract tracing, and isolate if they have symptoms.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.