Omicron Variant Now in MontCo, Health Officials Warn

NORRISTOWN PA – Now that a first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in a Montgomery County resident, the county Office of Public Health is intensifying calls to the public to ensure they wear masks consistently, are fully vaccinated against the virus and, if eligible, get their virus booster shots.

The apparently heightened transmission rate of Omicron, in which exposure cases reportedly double every 1-1/2 to 3 days, concerns county health officials and its Board of Commissioners. The best protection against the variant’s greater risk of infection and the potential of “severe illness or death … is to get vaccinated and get a booster dose,” physician and board Chair Dr. Valerie A. Arkoosh said.

The county’s Omicron discovery was found in a 20-year-old Whitpain Township resident, the public health office said Friday (Dec. 17). The individual was not identified by name, and officials did not indicate how, when, or where the virus may have been contracted. The office said it was coordinating its follow-up with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In light of the latest development, the office again urged all members of the public to:

  • Get vaccinated, and get a booster dose if you are eligible. Residents are eligible to receive their booster dose if it has been six months from receiving an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) or two months from receiving a dose of J&J (Janssen) vaccine. Immunocompromised individuals should receive a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine if it has been one month since they were vaccinated;
  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status; and
  • Get tested if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19.

“Getting vaccinated remains the best protection against COVID-19. Viruses normally mutate over time,” said Dr. Richard Lorraine, the county agency’s medical director. “A large pool of unvaccinated individuals enables the virus to continue to spread rapidly, and potentially mutate more rapidly. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus and slow the emergence of new variants,” he added.

The county operates four vaccine clinics – in Pottstown, King of Prussia, Willow Grove, and Norristown – that administer COVID-19 vaccines at no cost. See its available locations and appointment hours here. Want to find comprehensive lists of other vaccine providers or locations? See what’s available here.

For general COVID-19 questions, or to register for the vaccine by phone, call the county COVID-19 hotline at 1-833-875-3967. The hotline is open five days a week, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. General questions also can be emailed to covid19@montcopa.org.

If you want or need to be tested for COVID-19, county testing sites – in Pottstown, Green Lane, Norristown, Ardmore, and Willow Grove – are open various hours each weekday, weather permitting. Testing is free and is available to anyone who lives, works, or attends school within the county. Appointments can be made weekdays starting at 7 a.m. online, or starting at 8:30 a.m. by calling 610-970-2937.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger via Unsplash, used under license