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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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COVID-19: Where do we stand?

Soon after President Joe Biden was diagnosed with COVID in mid-July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) later confirmed that the strain infecting him was the Omicron variant, the most dominant in the U.S. 

As are other health departments and local governments throughout the country, the Shelby County Health Department is closely watching the local rate of infection. A full-blown, viral-infection crisis is just “not going to happen” as things stand now.

Dr. Bruce Randolph

“Everyone must first understand that those days of uncertainty and the lack of tools to effectively fight against any COVID strain are over,” said Shelby County Health Department Medical Director Dr. Bruce Randolph.

“We have vaccines. We know so much more about how the virus behaves, and we understand more about immunity as it relates to COVID.”

Meanwhile, Health Department officials are celebrating an uptick in daily vaccinations. The rate has gone from 245 to 400 over the past week, according to health department director, Dr. Michelle Taylor. She attributed the rise in vaccinations to the continued campaign effort to combat vaccination hesitancy.

Health officials acknowledge that the spread of the Omicron variant may not be fully reflected in statistics presently logged in Shelby County.

Randolph said getting an accurate count for daily infection rates is difficult because of the widespread use of home testing.

“Presently, on a seven-day average, there are 320 reported cases of Omicron,” said Randolph. “But there may be two to three times more detected at home. People are not required to report positive results, only labs report. Hospitalizations have bumped up slightly, but not significantly in any way. 

“Many people have some level of immunity because of a past infection or receiving a vaccine. Cases are mild, causing a level of discomfort for the patient, but not severe or life-threatening, for the most part.”

According to the CDC, the Omicron variant may be more transmissible than some earlier strains of COVID. However, the severity of the infection in an individual may depend on vaccination status. Regardless of whether symptoms are showing, the infection can be spread to others.

The severity of symptoms can be affected by a person’s age and health condition. Preliminary data suggest that Omicron may cause more mild effects, although some people may still have severe cases, need hospitalization, and could die from the infection with this variant.

Even if only a small percentage of people with the Omicron infection need hospitalization, a large volume of cases in a community could overwhelm the healthcare system. Officials here say higher vaccination numbers put Shelby County in a great position for maintaining low rates of COVID infection.

COVID-19 vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19 and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging. This includes primary series, booster shots, and additional doses for those who need them.

While vaccines protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant, breakthrough infections among people who are vaccinated can occur.

People who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines and get COVID-19 are less likely to develop serious illnesses than those who are unvaccinated and get the disease.

“We are still urging Shelby Countians to go and get vaccinated, if you have not been,” said Randolph. 

“Also, any eligible children who can receive the vaccine should be immunized to protect their health. If anyone tests positive at home, they should isolate for five days and wear masks for five days after isolation.”

President Biden emerged from isolation on Wednesday announcing that he had subsequently tested positive.

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