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The name of a newly identified variant of the coronavirus has had some social media users scratching their heads about the World Health Organization’s system for labeling certain versions of the virus.

The WHO chose on Friday to dub the variant, first reported to the agency by scientists in South Africa, “omicron” — continuing its use of the Greek alphabet for naming notable variants of the virus.

Social media users correctly noted, however, that the organization skipped two letters in doing so, leading to questions about the move.

Here’s what we know about how omicron ended up with its name.

CLAIM: The World Health Organization has labeled the new strain the “omicron” variant, skipping over “nu” and “xi” without explanation.

THE FACTS: The WHO on Friday gave the name “omicron” to a new variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The agency also deemed it a “ variant of concern.”

Omicron was first reported to the U.N. health agency by scientists in South Africa and has been identified in several other countries as well, The Associated Press has reported.

The WHO has followed the Greek alphabet when labeling certain variants of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, since May. It said the system allows for variants to be referred to in a simpler way than by their scientific names, and that it helps prevent people from referring to variants by the location where they were detected and creating stigma.

Many people had expected the agency to label the latest variant nu, which comes after mu, a variant designated on Aug. 30.

Instead, the WHO skipped over nu as well as xi, the next Greek letter in line — a move that many users on social media pointed out, while some questioned whether it was to avoid offending Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

In a statement provided to the AP, the WHO said it skipped nu for clarity and xi to avoid causing offense generally.

“‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’ and ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common last name,” the WHO said, adding that the agency’s “best practices for naming disease suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.’”

Those best practices were outlined in a May 2015 document issued by the agency. The organization said at the time that it wanted to “minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people” when naming infectious diseases.

This is the first time the organization has skipped letters since it began using the Greek alphabet for coronavirus variants; it has previously used the alphabet to label 12 others. Alpha, beta, gamma and delta are all currently “variants of concern” like omicron. Lambda and mu are given the less serious “variant of interest” designation. Six other letters were assigned to former variants of interest.

The omicron variant appears to have a high number of mutations in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to people. The WHO said Friday that preliminary evidence “suggests an increased risk of reinfection” compared to other variants of concern.

But scientists are still in the process of researching exactly what the genetic changes mean, to know if the variant is more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease.

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COVID Omicron News: Mixing and matching vaccines is safe and effective, NIH says

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Updated government research backs initial data that mixing and matching COVID vaccines is just fine.

The National Institutes of Health has now looked at more than 450 people who switched vaccine brands for their booster.


It found the change was both safe and effective.

The study results so far, tracked the first month after people got their booster.

The research is ongoing.

RELATED: What are the symptoms of the COVID omicron variant?

Here are more of today's COVID-19 headlines:

After day of confusion, masks back in NY schools
A New York Appellate Judge granted a stay in the state's lawsuit over the COVID-19 face mask mandate, meaning it remains in place while case is appealed -- and schools must enforce it. New York State had quickly filed an appeal after a Supreme Court judge in Nassau Count ruled that the New York's mask mandate couldn't be enforced. The mandate had been reinstituted over concerns about a winter surge of coronavirus cases. Masks were optional Tuesday in many Nassau County school districts, but on Wednesday, students and staff needed to wear their masks.

What to know about BA.2, new omicron subvariant detected in several US states
Even as the omicron COVID-19 variant continues to sweep the globe, scientists are now monitoring a new mutation of omicron, dubbed BA.2. The World Health Organization maintains that BA.2 is not a "variant of concern," meaning there is no current evidence to suggest this new subvariant will worsen COVID-19 transmission, illness severity, or efficacy of vaccines and public health efforts like masking and social distancing. BA.2 numbers around the world are rising, with at least 40 countries reporting cases to a global variant tracking database, but the subvariant has spread rapidly in Denmark and the UK, with almost half of recent cases in Denmark attributed to BA.2. The subvariant has already been detected in several U.S. states, with Washington State confirming two cases Monday.

Americans' trust in science now deeply polarized, poll shows
Republicans' faith in science is falling as Democrats rely on it even more, with a trust gap in science and medicine widening substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic, new survey data shows. It's the largest gap in nearly five decades of polling by the General Social Survey, a widely respected trend survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago that has been measuring confidence in institutions since 1972. That is unsurprising to more than a dozen scientists reached for comment by The Associated Press, but it concerns many of them.

"We are living at a time when people would rather put urine or cleaning chemicals in their body than scientifically vetted vaccines," University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd told the AP in an email. "That is a clear convergence of fear, lack of critical thinking, confirmation bias and political tribalism."

Biden administration officially withdraws vaccine rule
The Biden administration has officially withdrawn a rule that would have required workers at big companies to get vaccinated or face regular COVID testing requirements. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed the withdrawal Tuesday. But the agency said it still strongly encourages workers to get vaccinated. In early November, OSHA announced a vaccine-or-test mandate for companies with at least 100 employees. The rule - which would have impacted more than 80 million U.S. workers - was originally set to go into effect on Jan. 4.

Here's how to get free N95 masks from pharmacies or community health centers
The rollout of free N95 masks for the public began this week across the United States, with some pharmacies already handing out the masks and others expecting to do so in the coming days. The program is part of the Biden administration's effort to distribute 400 million free N95 masks from the Strategic National Stockpile via pharmacies and community health centers. The program is expected to be fully up and running by early February.
The masks are arriving at their destinations with accompanying flyers and signage from the US Department of Health and Human Services, which paid for the masks. Here's what you need to know about getting a free N95 mask through this program.

What is MIS-C in children? TX mom shares son's story of 'scary' battle with rare COVID complication
A 6-year-old Houston boy and his mom are reflecting on his scary battle with a rare COVID-19 complication in children that left him hospitalized in the ICU for more than two weeks. Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, also known as MIS-C, in children is a rare condition where different parts of the body become inflamed, including the heart, lungs and brain. It usually happens three to four weeks after contracting the virus. It is extremely rare, with only 1% of kids with COVID getting it. Last January, Sara Cantu took her son, Santana, who was 5 at the time, to the hospital when he began experiencing symptoms weeks after contracting COVID.

COVID-19 vaccines do not affect fertility for women or men, study finds
A new study adds to the growing evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for both pregnant people and people hoping to become pregnant. The study, which looked at more than 2,000 couples in the United States and Canada, found "no adverse association" between getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and fertility, for both men and women. On the other hand, men who contract COVID-19 may experience a temporary reduction in fertility. Couples who had a male partner test positive for COVID-19 within 60 days of their partner's menstrual cycle were 18% less likely to conceive in that cycle, according to the study, published on Jan. 20 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.


When am I contagious if infected with omicron?
When am I contagious if infected with omicron? It's not yet clear, but some early data suggests people might become contagious sooner than with earlier variants - possibly within a day after infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the few days before and after symptoms develop. But that window of time might happen earlier with omicron, according to some outside experts. That's because omicron appears to cause symptoms faster than previous variants - about three days after infection, on average, according to preliminary studies. Based on previous data, that means people with omicron could start becoming contagious as soon as a day after infection.


MORE CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 COVERAGE
Omicron variant symptoms: what to know even if you are vaccinated
New York City COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker
New Jersey COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on coronavirus

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