AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are at some of the lowest levels seen in the CSRA in months. 18 patients were hospitalized at University Hospital Monday, while 26 were being treated at Augusta University Medical Center. However, there are new concerns about COVID-19 as a new variant, Omicron, spreads throughout the world.

“It’s doing what viruses do — mutating,” Dr. Rodger MacArthur, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical College of Georgia, explained. “It doesn’t mean that it’s going to mutate in a way that’s going to make it more deadly. We don’t know if the mutations will result in a virus that’s easier to spread. For the virus to take hold in any substantive way, it would have to be able to out-compete the Delta variant, which is what we have here predominantly in the United States and Georgia.”

Omicron has not been detected in the United States yet. Some worry the observed mutations may make the virus easier to spread and, perhaps, even more dangerous

“What we’re hearing, at least anecdotally out of South Africa, is that not as many people as they thought would be hospitalized are getting hospitalized. What they’re saying is this new variant may be less deadly than Delta and may result in less severe disease. But, these are very early reports coming out of South Africa.”

Researchers will spend the next weeks learning more about Omicron and how current vaccines protect against it.

“There’s every reason to believe the current vaccines will have a lot of efficacy and protection against this new multi-mutated variant. We just don’t have this data yet.”

Pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and Moderna, are working on altering their vaccines to make them stronger against Omicron if needed.

For now, MacArthur urges the public not to panic.

“If people are very concerned and if it makes them feel better, certainly wear a mask indoors, especially around crowds. It’s hard to do. It’s not fun to do, but masks do work. Maintain social distancing. If folks haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, now would be a great time to do it.”

MacArthur expects more data on Omicron to be released in the next month.