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Health officials: ‘New wave’ of COVID-19 is ‘already here’

The Shelby County Health Department was bracing for a new wave of COVID-19 cases to hit after the new year.

But with more than 30 cases of the highly transmittable Omicron variant and the seven-day average of new daily cases now doubling, officials say the “post-holiday” wave of the virus already is here.

“That new wave has already started,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, Health Department medical officer. “Omicron is now the dominant variant. It is more contagious than the Delta variant. The seven-day average is at 300 and over. That’s twice what the daily new cases have been.”

Nationally, federal health officials said Omicron is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73 percent of new infections last week.

Locally, the Health Department Wednesday (Dec. 22) reported 421 new COVID-19 cases and seven new COVID-related deaths.

There were 317 new cases and two deaths Tuesday (Dec. 21); 380 new cases and no deaths Monday (Dec. 21); 368 new cases and two deaths Sunday (Dec. 19); 364 new cases and one death Saturday (Dec. 18); 271 new cases and seven deaths Friday (Dec. 17) and 265 new cases and seven deaths last Thursday (Dec. 16).

New pediatric cases stood at 84.

There have been 2,199 confirmed COVID-related deaths and 233 probable COVID-related deaths, according to the Health Department’s COVID-19 data dashboard.

The arsenal of weapons to fight the new wave includes a number of fully operational COVID-19 testing sites.

Hundreds of cars are lining up every day as county residents prepare for family gatherings, holiday travel and other activities that will expose them to crowds in close quarters.

“We recommend that everyone get tested before leaving town and upon returning,” said Randolph.

“Self-tests may not detect the Omicron variant. But if a self-test is positive, it may be a good idea to go and get a test at one of the testing sites for confirmation, especially if there are symptoms, or a person has been exposed to the virus by an infected person.”

At many of the testing sites in Shelby County, the traditional PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are being used to test for COVID-19. Doctors say those tests are “the gold standard,” accurate in detecting the Omicron variant. 

A PCR test is a diagnostic test that determines if there is infection by analyzing a sample to see if genetic material from the virus is present.

Home antigen tests are also accurate, doctors say. 

Rules for staying safe and healthy over the holiday season have been released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and endorsed by the Health Department. They include:

■ Those who are not fully vaccinated should get a vaccination.

■ If you are not fully vaccinated and aged 2 or older, you should wear a mask in indoor public places.

■ In general, you do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings. In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.

■ Those who have a medical condition or are taking medications that weaken the immune system may not be fully protected, even if they are fully vaccinated. They should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people, including wearing a well-fitted mask, until advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.

■ Consider using a self-test before joining indoor gatherings with others who are not in your household.

A positive self-test result means that you have an infection and should avoid indoor gatherings to reduce the risk of spreading disease to someone else.

A negative self-test result means that you may not have an infection. Repeating the test with at least 24 hours between tests will increase the confidence that you are not infected.

To find the closest testing site, go to: www.shelbytnhealth.com, or call 901-222-9000.

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