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Billings residents worried about holidays as omicron variant spreads

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Posted at 12:35 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 14:35:11-05

BILLINGS — Montana has confirmed several cases of the Omicron variant in the state. With the holidays coming up, many residents are worried about the rapid spread in such close gatherings.

Shannon Larson has lived in Billings with her family for 16 years. Like many, she made the tough decision to stay home for the holidays and not gather with her loved ones.

“Everybody was traumatized after last year so I understand how people want to get back to visiting family,” Larson said.

Though Larson’s family won’t be traveling during the holidays, she’s still concerned.

“It worries me when people go back to school and all the college kids that come home. That worries me when the schools start up again,” Larson said.

According to Billings Clinic infectious disease specialist, Dr. Neil Ku, Larson has ample reason to be worried.

“This variant is about 400 times more transmittable than the original variant and about 200, or about twice as transmittable, as the Delta variant,” Ku said.

Two cases of the omicron variant were confirmed on Monday in Gallatin County, while a third case was confirmed in Missoula County Tuesday.

“With this current variant, I think that’s what really concerning is how quickly it spread,” Ku said.

Ku says that holiday gatherings can be doable with layers of safety.

“I think that going through the effort is worthwhile to keep all the family members safe,” said Ku.

Those layers include getting vaccinated, washing your hands, and trying to avoid mingling closely with others who aren’t in your household. He also recommends that families get tested for COVID-19 to prevent unknowingly spreading the virus to others.

“The more that people employ the layers that they include, the safer these holiday gatherings can be,” said Ku.

Larson believes it’s only a matter of time until omicron is detected in Billings.

“Everybody’s traveling so it might come quicker to us I think,” Larson said.

Like the rest of the community, she longs for the day when holidays aren’t filled with concerns about COVID-19.

“The variants would stop if we could stop the spread. It would be nice to get back to normal,” Larson said.