OKEECHOBEE -- With the first case of COVID-19 Omicron variant identified in the United States earlier this week, “the best defense is to get vaccinated,” Bret Smith of Florida Department of Health in Okeechobee told the Okeechobee County Commissioners at their Dec. 2 meeting.
He said the highly contagious omicron variant is believed to be even more contagious than the delta variant which is currently the predominant covid strain in the United States. He said scientists are still researching the variant.
Okeechobee County continues to have residents test positive for COVID-19, Smith said.
“This past week, we had six presumptive positives with 394 tested,” said Smith.
The county’s percent positive rate is now 2.5. He said the number of people tested can skew the percentage.
About 47% of Okeechobee County residents over the age of 5 have been vaccinated, Smith said.
“Vaccines for 5 to 12-year-olds are rapidly increasing,” he said. He said the vaccines are available at 10 locations in the county, including most pharmacies. The Okeechobee County Health Department offers vaccinations on Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.
Smith said the health department encourages those who were vaccinated earlier in the year to get booster shots. The Centers for Disease Control have recommended booster shots six months after the second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or the single dose of J & J vaccine.
“A lot of people have been afraid to get the booster shot,” because they heard some people had reactions to it," Smith explained. He said the reactions – similar to mild flu symptoms – mean the vaccine is working, building up your immune system.
He said 2,138 Okeechobee County residents have received their first shot, 13,789 Okeechobee County residents are fully vaccinated, and 2,977 Okeechobee County residents have received booster shots as of Dec. 2.
On Dec. 1, the first COVID-19 Omicron variant case was identified in California. In a White House briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said an individual who traveled from South Africa on Nov. 22 tested positive for the variant. The individual traveled before the new travel restrictions went into effect on Nov. 29. Fauci said that individual is in self-quarantine.
A second case of the omicron variant was found in Minnesota on Dec. 2. The person who tested positive had recently traveled to New York City for an anime convention. The mayor of New York City is urging everyone who attended the convention at the Javits Center Nov. 18-22 to be tested.