This variant is not a new wave of COVID, but a tsunami
By Angela Rogalski
The Bolivar Bullet
From Alpha to Delta and now Omicron, COVID-19 variants are continuing to mutate, causing surges and health havocs with each one. And unfortunately, Omicron has proven to be right on track with the pattern, bringing positivity rates up in some cases over 30%.
Dr. Scott Nelson is a Board-Certified Family Medicine physician in Cleveland. Nelson said the Omicron variant is definitely making a big difference in the numbers when it comes to positive cases of COVID.
“When people ask me about this new “wave” of COVID, I tell them it’s not a new wave, it’s a tsunami,” said Nelson. “The Omicron variant is making up roughly about two-thirds of the new cases that are being reported in Mississippi. For example, the morning of January 5, 2022, we were looking at a little over 4,800 new cases just that day. So that is a massive spike in cases going on in Mississippi.”
Nelson said people can go to the Mississippi State Department of Health’s website https://msdh.ms.gov and track the daily case numbers.
Nelson said that we weren’t anywhere near the end of this particular surge, “We have weeks and weeks to go before this Omicron wave begins to settle down.”
And, with Omicron being much more contagious, Nelson stresses getting your vaccines, boosters, wearing a mask when indicated, washing your hands often and social distancing has never been more important.
“Its mutation has caused it to be much more contagious, some studies have estimated at least 50% more than the Delta variant, but it does seem to have a silver lining in that in the preliminary findings it seems to be somewhat less severe. Of course, being fully vaccinated and getting your booster plays into that severity. So, get your vaccinations and your boosters because we do know that if you’ve been vaccinated and if you have some prior immunity, even from a natural infection, it appears your risk of getting seriously ill is substantially less than someone who has no immunity.”
Ashley Williams is director of Infection Prevention and Employee Health at North Sunflower Medical Center. Williams said at NSMC, Omicron has sent positivity rates soaring to new heights.
“We’re doing rapid antigen tests on our patients right now,” she explained. “So we can get results back on that pretty quickly. However, with the volume of people we are seeing, those wait times can be longer. We cannot detect the type of variant we’re seeing with this test, but I can tell you that this increase in positivity rates started very suddenly for us when the Omicron variant was detected.
“For me, I came in the Monday before Christmas and things were pretty normal; I had three positives that day, nothing too extreme. By the next day, the positive cases doubled. But, on December 23, I had 16 positives out of 123 tests, so that was a 13% positivity rate. On December 24, it was 34 positives. We jumped from 13% to 24%. At present, I’m up to 120 positives per day and we’re running about 25 to 30 positivity rate daily. To put those numbers into perspective, for the entire month of November we tested a total of 1,405 people and only three percent were positive. So, it definitely jumped and it had to be the Omicron because what we’re seeing is a variant that studies say is 50 to 70 times more contagious than the other variants. So get vaccinated, get your booster and practice social distancing. Masks and good hand hygiene are important too.”
Caitlyn Thompson is director of Marketing, Growth & Outreach at Bolivar Medical Center. Thompson said that like most other facilities, BMC is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases, but aren’t necessarily testing patients to determine which strain they may have.
“The specific type of variant doesn’t impact how we care for COVID-19 patients, nor does it impact the health and safety protocols already in place to protect our team and all those who enter our facilities,” she added. “I have been asked if the Omicron variant is more contagious than other strains. Early data suggest that Omicron is likely more transmissible than any other identified strain – including the Delta variant – which means it is more contagious. Omicron has been detected in most U.S. states and is rapidly increasing the proportion of COVID-19 cases it is causing. The CDC expects that anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.”
But, Thompson stresses the right tools to combat Omicron are already in place.
“The best defense against the Omicron variant is to get a COVID-19 vaccine and encourage everyone you know to get vaccinated,” she said. “At this point, most of the patients we are seeing who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. It is also wise to wear a mask, socially distance from others and practice proper hand hygiene to help slow the spread of illness. Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 are possible regardless of the specific variant, as no vaccine is 100 percent effective. The good news is that even if you contract COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, you are significantly less likely to become severely ill or require hospitalization.”
Brooks Rizzo is the clinic director at Sunflower Rural Health Clinic in Sunflower County. Rizzo agreed that Omicron has caused the bottom to fall out when it comes to the positivity rates of COVID.
“Right before Christmas patients just began to get sick suddenly and quickly,” she said. “We started to be flooded with patients and it hasn’t slowed down since. It is spreading a lot faster than any other surge I’ve seen. It definitely seems to be a lot more contagious than the Delta variant. We went from testing about 100 patients per week to the week it really began to surge and we tested 1,500 people. And, it has been at least 200 patients per day since then. One day we tested 333 patients and our positivity rate went up to 38% and that’s the highest it’s ever been since the pandemic began.”
Rizzo said the holiday gatherings may have contributed to the large numbers, but either way protection from the disease is vital.
“The CDC is recommending wearing your masks out in public, use good hand hygiene and get vaccinated and take your booster,” she added.