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Omicron variant concerning for Western New York, which is already seeing large surge from Delta

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With the Omicron variant storming out of Southern Africa and reaching as far as the Canadian capital of Ottawa on Sunday, it's becoming an issue around the world and in Western New York.

The local region is already dealing with skyrocketing COVID-19 rates and an overall positivity rate of 10.3%, according to the latest state figures released Sunday. Erie County alone had an additional 504 new cases, while Niagara County had 91 cases and Chautauqua County had 40.

Dr. Thomas Russo, an expert on infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said Western New York doesn't need Omicron.

“Right here in Western New York we're suffering an increased wave of infections and hospitalizations, due to the Delta variant. The last thing we want to hear about is another variant on the radar screen that may further extend this pandemic, which all of us are quite weary of and ready to put in our rear-view mirror,” he said.

It’s not yet clear if Omicron is worse than the lethal Delta, with researchers rushing to figure it all out. But Russo said the concern is probably warranted.

“The three things with each variant that we'd like to be able to know and assess as quickly as possible is: How transmissible it is? Is it going to be resistant to our vaccines and the protection afforded by prior infection? And is it going to cause more severe disease or less severe disease?” he said.

Russo said unvaccinated people are in large part fueling the present surge in COVID cases in the region. Nearly 30% of Western New York adults are not fully vaccinated.

“People want to be done with this pandemic and I get it,” Russo said, “but, unfortunately, this pandemic is not over yet.”

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.