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Local health experts continue to track Omicron variant, push for boosters amid winter Covid surge

Christmas Day is less than two weeks away and for a second year in a row, we're seeing a rise...
Christmas Day is less than two weeks away and for a second year in a row, we're seeing a rise in Covid cases ahead of the holidays.(WTOC)
Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 6:05 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2021 at 6:24 AM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A winter surge is here. That’s the message from health experts in some parts of the country, with at least 42 states reporting a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations this week.

As of Friday, that number has jumped up nearly 16 percent nationwide.

The number of new cases is trending back upwards in Georgia. That’s something we’re seeing play out in Chatham County, where the community transmission index is back near 100 after dipping as low as 66 at the end of November.

The community transmission index is the number of cases per hundred thousand people, and a number closely watched by health experts when it comes to gauging the spread.

All this comes about two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday.

This uptick is something WTOC is watching closely as our communities now have the Omicron variant to contend with as well.

This is still such a day-by-day and hour-by-hour situation as we are learning more about the variant. But it’s here in Georgia and likely already in the Coastal Empire, although we don’t have any documented cases confirmed yet.

Dr. Lawton Davis from the Coastal Health District says it is concerning how rapidly the variant is spreading around the world.

Omicron was first identified in Africa around mid-November, and then South Africa quickly became the epicenter. On November 26, it was labeled a variant of concern. Just a few days later, on December 1, the first case was documented in the U.S. and two days later was the first confirmed case in Georgia.

While most cases locally are still from the Delta variant, early studies on the Omicron variant show it is more contagious than Delta.

“It is not a descendant of the Delta variant. It seems to have branched off from a different line and contains many mutations which, in theory, are very potentially concerning. We are still gathering real world data to see the severity of the illness, how well the vaccines protect it in the real world,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, Coastal Health District.

Dr. Davis says most of the information they have right now is from laboratory data and not from the real world, but early indications show Omicron could be anywhere from two to five times more contagious than Delta. However, health experts are still pushing for the vaccine and boosters.

While breakthrough cases are happening with the variant, so far, people with the vaccine and booster are having mild symptoms even with the Omicron variant.

At this time, three cases of the Omicron variant have been linked to Georgia, while no cases have been confirmed in South Carolina.

Ahead of the holidays, health experts are urging you not only to get vaccinated, but also get your booster shot.

Right now, all Americans 18 and older qualify for a booster shot at the Coastal Health District, but that could change on Monday as the CDC has approved booster shots for those 16 and 17 year of age.

The Coastal Health District hopes to be able to start offering the booster shots to those teenagers that qualify as soon as Monday, Dec. 13, but they are still waiting on guidance from the Georgia Department of Health.

Right now, 52 percent of Chatham County residents are fully vaccinated, but just over half of those people have their booster shot. Currently, 28 percent in the county are fully vaccinated with an additional dose..

Dr. Davis says don’t wait any longer if you are eligible for a booster.

“Some people ask, ‘should I wait on a special new vaccine tailored for Delta or tailed for Omicron?,’ and my response would be no, not right now. We know that being boosted improves your protection against Delta, which is already here, and it appears that it also affords better protection against Omicron,” Dr. Davis said.

You can mix and match any of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines to get your booster shot as long as it has been six months since your last shot of Pfizer or Moderna, and at least two months after your Johnson and Johnson shot.

For adolescents ages 16 and 17, they will have to get a booster of the Pfizer vaccine since that is the only one approved for that age group.

To make an appointment to get your booster shot through the Coastal Health District, click here.

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