COVID-19 cases continue to trend down, Northeast Florida health leaders say

UF Health Jacksonville director of accreditation and infection prevention says, on a local level, he’s not concerned about ‘stealthier’ omicron variant BA.2

The message from health leaders in Northeast Florida on Friday: COVID-19 cases continue to trend down.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The message from health leaders in Northeast Florida on Friday: COVID-19 cases continue to trend down.

“Largely, Northeast Florida is over the omicron wave. We continue to see lessening cases, lessening hospitalizations, and we’re moving into the tail end hopefully of this pandemic,” said Chad Neilsen, UF Health Jacksonville director of accreditation and infection prevention.

Every week medical experts like Neilsen give an update on where the hospital stands in the pandemic.

Neilsen says, right now, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

“I certainly think, after omicron, if I’ve ever been optimistic about ending this pandemic, this is probably a good point where omicron is pushing us to a state of, instead of pandemic, endemic,” Neilsen said.

But there are concerns about a new subvariant of the omicron variant called BA.2, widely considered stealthier than the original version of omicron because particular genetic traits make it somewhat harder to detect. It has already been found in 74 countries. Looking at the U.S., it has been found in 47 states, including Florida.

While research is very limited, the new variant could be spread faster than omicron.

“We are certainly watching this BA.2, this sub-lineage of omicron because it is showing some kind of level of transmission advantage,” said World Health Organization spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris.

But Neilsen says, on a local level, he’s not concerned about the new variant.

“There’s no indication right now that it’s causing worse illness. It may be more transmissible, but there’s just not a lot of it here in the U.S.,” Neilsen said. “It’s not doing much damage so to speak.”

Regardless, Neilsen says, people who are not vaccinated or boosted still need to get the shot.

“If you choose not to have that protection then you are opening yourself up for some level of risk if you do get COVID because I do believe that COVID, omicron, delta, alpha, whatever will continue to rotate in the community moving forward, so there is still the potential an unvaccinated person can get COVID and be hospitalized,” Neilsen said.

While the hospitals are not full of COVID-19 patients, as of Friday, UF Health Jacksonville had 60 of them, most of whom are unvaccinated, according to Neilsen.

RELATED: List: COVID-19 testing sites in Northeast Florida

If you do need to get tested for COVID-19, you now have another option.

The Cuba Hunter Community Center now offers both rapid and PCR COVID-19 testing. Previously, the site only offered PCR.