JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local doctors have a strong message for the community: The omicron variant is here.
The Duval County health department has not confirmed any cases of omicron in Jacksonville yet, but doctors say follow the numbers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida reported 20,194 new cases on Tuesday, the largest single-day increase since Sept. 1. This comes after 12,915 cases were reported on Monday. In two days, that’s more than 33,000 cases. In comparison, the last weekly report from the Florida Department of Health on Friday — which covered the previous Friday through Thursday — had 29,568 new cases.
The doctors who News4JAX spoke with say those spikes can only mean one thing: Omicron is here.
UF Health Jacksonville infectious disease specialist Dr. Mobeen Rathore tweeted Tuesday night: “Get ready for #Omicron #Florida! It is here, expecting surge in Jan.”
“Oh, there is no doubt in my mind there are many cases here in Northeast Florida, and I think that’s something we should be really concerned about,” Rathore told News4JAX on Wednesday.
Concerned not panicked — that has been the message from health officials all along. But Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, co-chair of the Population Health Consortium of Northeast Florida, says he would take it a step further.
“Don’t panic but be highly concerned and highly proactive. Protect yourself, protect your children and protect your community,” Goldhagen said. “We anticipate that by next week that Omicron will be the Predominant variant in our community, and we will have significant impact throughout the region.”
The good news: Both doctors believe we have the tools to slow the spread — vaccines, social distancing, masks and testing.
On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first pill against COVID-19, a Pfizer drug, for adults and children age 12 and older with a positive COVID-19 test and early symptoms who face the highest risks of hospitalization. Studies show it reduces the risk of hospitalizations and death by 88% if given within the first five days of symptoms.
The Biden administration announced it will buy enough of the pills to treat 10 million people, but it will take months to produce and distribute that many pills. And Rathore warns until those pills become available, there’s limited treatment for people who get sick with omicron.
“At least two of the three antibodies, monoclonal antibodies, don’t even work against omicron,” Rathore said.
That includes the Regeneron treatment readily available right now.
“There are issues to be concerned about,” Rathore said. “This is going to be not what we saw with delta. It’s going to be different it’s going to be a lot of sick people in the doctor’s offices wanting to get in to see the doctor, wanting to get tested, so now’s the time to get yourself protected.”
The best way to protect yourself, according to the doctors, is to get vaccinated and boosted. And if you are feeling sick, even if it’s mild symptoms, get tested.
LIST: COVID-19 testing sites in Northeast Florida
Many testing centers will be closed for the holidays and will not open back up until next week. However, you can still get these at-home tests, but because of their popularity, CVS and Walgreens are limiting how many customers can now get.