By T. Scott Boatright
It’s official — Omicron is here in Lincoln Parish.
Natalie Wise, nurse practitioner at the Michael Brooks Health Clinic in Ruston, said Wednesday that the clinic has been informed that a positive COVID test detected earlier this week is now the first Omicron case detected in the Louisiana Department of Health’s Region 8.
Region 8 serves Lincoln, Caldwell, East Carroll, Franklin, Jackson, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas, Union, and West Carroll Parishes.
“On Monday we had a positive case here at the clinic and have found out it’s the first one identified here in Region 8,” Wise said. “Omicron has probably been for a few weeks. It’s hard to say. But sequencing unfortunately isn’t available everywhere. We’re just fortunate to have partnerships that allowed us to be able to find out that case detected on Monday ended up being the Omicron. We have other tests out there pending results that it wouldn’t surprise me if at least some of which turned out being Omicron.”
“The Michael Brooks Clinic is one of the testing locations here in Lincoln Parish and we partner with Grambling State and Louisiana Tech to do additional sequencing testing. We’re excited to be part of all of that and fighting this thing is all about gathering knowledge to use for research on vaccinations and treatments.”
Wise said that currently trending shows that 70% of new COVID cases occurring nationally are ending up being the Omicron variant.
“The northeast part of the country has been hit hard by it already and it’s been tracking farther and farther south in recent days and weeks,” Wise said. “So all of our cases we’re getting down here could easily end up being Omicron at this point.”
Wise said that the first Omicron case detected here in Lincoln Parish is a diagnosis for an unvaccinated patient.
The new Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24. The new variant was first detected in specimens collected on Nov. 11, in Botswana, located in the southern region of Africa and on Nov. 14 the neighboring country of South Africa.
On Dec. 1, the first case of Omicron found in the U.S. was reported, according to the Center for Disease Control. By Dec. 8, 22 U.S. states, including Louisiana, were reporting cases of the variant.
So far, most officials say most, if not all, Omicron diagnoses have been reported as mild cases, with patients having flu-like symptoms: dry coughs, fever, night sweats and body pain and that the death rate from the variant is low.
Complicating matters are other illnesses that have ramped up across Lincoln Parish in recent weeks.
“In the area this past two or three weeks, cases of different viruses are running rampant,” Wise said. “Flu is running rampant right now. I was talking to the head pharmacist at Super 1 and she said that they have used up a lot of their flu-relief medications just over the past four days even with having a lot in stock.
“So the flu is at an extremely high rate in this area right now. COVID is popping back up. It never really went away but we are seeing at least a small surge and I worry it’s just the beginning of a larger surge. And we have a lot of patients testing negative for flu and COVID but still are suffering from viral respiratory illnesses.”
Dr. Paul Kim, an assistant professor at GSU’s Department of Biological Sciences, the School of Nursing, and the School of Social Work, and Dr. Jamie Newman, associate dean for Research and Graduate Studies in Louisiana Tech’s College of Applied and Natural Sciences have been collaborating with the LSUHSC Center of Emerging Viral Threats.
They have formed one of the four Rockefeller Regional Accelerators for Genomic Surveillance to be able to determine different variants and use that information to hopefully help create better vaccines and treatments.
“There’s just not a lot of sequencing in this area, and this is important work,” said Kim, adding that before the work he and Newman are both doing have climbed from 0.43% of cases being sequenced in Lincoln Parish.
The Rockefeller Center has poured $20 million in grants to 20 public, private, and nonprofit organizations, to help fund genome sequencing and strengthen organizations’ abilities to sequence and share genomic and other data.
“We’ve accomplished this through a grassroots effort involving free clinics and small university clinics and labs with a modest budget. The work of the clinics reporting to and working with us, the Rockefeller Center and LSU Health Center is so important to try and get a handle on COVID and all of its variants.”