Scientists with the Medical University of South Carolina’s (MUSC) Molecular Pathology Laboratory identified the first three cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in the Palmetto State this week.
All three cases identified were in fully vaccinated adults in Charleston County. Health officials with MUSC and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) said there was a mix of travel and non-travel in these infections.
Symptoms have been mild, said the molecular pathology lab director Julie Hirschhorn, which were described as flu-like symptoms that could be treated at home without the assistance of a medical doctor.
The team has been processing positive COVID-19 samples on a weekly basis to check for mutations and variants of concern.
“Since the identification of Omicron in Africa, we’ve been trying to do a run each week to make sure that we’re sequencing as real time as possible,” Hirschhorn said. “The more real time you do sequencing, the better handle you have on what’s going on in the population.”
As of last week, just shy of 500 local cases are sequenced weekly, as of dat which involves looking at each individual sample’s genetic makeup. Samples come from those who have tested positive for COVID-19 at MUSC Health. Tests take three to four days to complete, and results are then sent to the DHEC.
Hirschhorn said the best thing S.C. residents can do to protect themselves from the omicron variant is getting fully vaccinated and receiving a booster shot as soon as they’re eligible.
“The little bit of evidence there is suggests that being fully vaccinated may not be as protective against omicron as it was against delta or other previous strains,” she said. “However, that’s where getting the booster is very important.”