OKEECHOBEE – Should Okeechobee County residents be worried about the COVID-19 Omicron variant? The latest covid variant to hit the United States appears to be even more contagious than the delta variant which was tied to the summer spike in covid hospitalizations and deaths. While it has not yet been detected in Okeechobee County, the omicron variant has been detected in St. Lucie County.
Preliminary study of the new variant indicates it causes less severe symptoms than the delta variant.
“The vaccine is still the best prevention,” Bret Smith of the Florida Department of Health in Okeechobee County, told the Okeechobee County Commission at their Dec. 16 meeting.
He said since the Thanksgiving holiday, the health department has seen an increase in the demand for covid tests. For the week of Dec. 10-16, 527 people were tested in the county and 8 were positive. None of the positive cases were omicron. “Our percent positive is 0.85%,” Smith explained. The county saw a rise in new covid positivity right after the Thanksgiving holiday but the rate has dropped back down, he explained.
Currently, one Okeechobee county resident is hospitalized due to COVID-19.
The county is “pumping out booster vaccine at a pretty good rate,” Smith said. Preliminary studies of the omicron variant have found both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do well against the virus if the person has a booster shot.
Smith said the county has also seen an increase in people getting their first vaccinations. They are also seeing an increase in vaccinations for those ages 5 through 12.
The health department will be closed for the holidays. Smith said the governor has closed state offices Thursday, Dec. 23 and Friday, Dec. 24, as well as Dec. 30 and Dec. 31 .
“ I’ve heard on the news, omicron is more transmissible,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread.
“It’s highly transmissible, but its effects are lighter, compared to delta,” explained Smith.
“All this stuff is highly transmissible,” said Commission Chair Terry Burroughs. Burroughs said national news media have made the situation worse. “For anyone watching the national media, there is too much clutter and not enough valuable information,” he said.
Smith said the tests collected at the health department and at the Agri-Civic Center go to the state lab, which tests for different strains of the virus. There are probably 10 different active strains of covid circulating in the United States, he explained. Currently the delta variant is dominant.
The state has closed the Monoclonal Antibody Therapy site in Okeechobee County. The nearest one is in St. Lucie County.
Okeechobee County has 10 locations currently vaccinating anyone age 5 or older (including boosters). COVID-19 vaccinations are free. To find a vaccination site near you, go online to https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/vaccines/vaccine-locator/
Most pharmacies allow those seeking vaccinations to make an appointment. Walk-ins are also given vaccinations.