DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – With the omicron variant becoming the most prominent mutation of the coronavirus, hospitals are again becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. The State of Ohio has even called in the National Guard to help hospitals that have reached their peak capacity due to the new strain. Dr. Jeffrey Weinstein, M.D., patient safety officer for Kettering Health, said while the new variation may cause only mild infection for some, it has the potential to be just as dangerous.

“The most important difference between the omicron strain and the previous strains is how contagious it is,” he said. “So it is really, really contagious. It can spread through a population within days – much, much faster than the prior strains did.”

Weinstein said medical professionals hypothesize this is because it multiplies much more quickly in the upper airway tissues, including in the trachea and larynx, but not as well in the lungs. That means for many people, the disease will be less severe. However, everyone who gets infected with the virus will not have as favorable an outcome as others.

“All along, one of the reason’s we’ve been making such a big push for vaccinations is not so much to help me or you or someone who is healthy,” said Weinstein,” but if I get it, I could transmit it to someone who is not healthy who could die from it. So even though omicron is less serious for most people, the fact that it’s spreading so quickly makes it a danger to the people who are most vulnerable.”

Weinstein said due to the nature of the mutation, it may be harder to pinpoint symptoms or notice any that may be different from common cold or allergy symptoms. Some individuals who catch the omicron variant may be totally asymptomatic. Weinstein said people should generally watch for classic symptoms of COVID-19: congestion, cough, a sore throat, fever and shortness of breath. However, some symptoms of omicron are less likely to be experienced compared to other strains, such as loss of taste and smell. When gathering indoors or getting together for the holidays, he said one of the best ways to prevent spreading the virus is to have everyone get tested ahead of time.

“If you’re going to be at a gathering, I mean Christmas is only three days away…most of the time you’re going to be eating or drinking and not have a mask on, it’s probably a good idea to have people tested beforehand even if they’re asymptomatic. If they’re negative, that gives you a higher level of comfort that you can be around people in an indoor setting without wearing masks,” he said.

And while young people, healthy people, and other less vulnerable populations may not see vaccination and testing as a a pressing issue, Weinstein said it be worth considering.

“Omicron is now the dominant strain in the United States. The northeast part of Ohio has higher rates than we have here in the Dayton region and those hospitals are under significant stress. Our hospitals are very, very busy and really on the edge but we have not gotten into a crisis mode.”

To learn more about testing, click here.