Editorial: With omicron surging, health officials again urge vaccinations, booster shots

As expected, the omicron COVID-19 variant is rapidly spreading across the United States.

The variant on Tuesday has accounted for an estimated 58.6% of sequenced U.S. virus cases in the week ending Dec. 25, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Nowcast model. That's an increase from an estimated 22.5% for the week before. According to the CDC, delta, which had been the dominant variant, accounted for 41.1% of cases in the most recent period.

The Associated Press reported: "The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Georgia rose to nearly 8,700 a day on Monday, according to the state Public Health Department. That's nearing the peaks that Georgia saw in infection numbers in early January and early September."

As of Tuesday, Whitfield County had 296 COVID cases in the past two weeks. Since March 2020, Whitfield County has had 19,982 COVID cases. Murray County had 122 COVID cases in the past two weeks as of Tuesday and 6,592 COVID cases since March 2020.

With cases rising across the country, state and area, health officials are once again urging people to get vaccinated against COVID or, if eligible, receive their booster shot.

"We've been urging everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and we need those who are ready for their booster dose of the Pfizer, Moderna or Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine to get that dose immediately, as well," said Dr. Zachary Taylor, interim director of the North Georgia Health District. "The message is more important now than ever. People who get the booster are much less likely to become seriously ill or hospitalized."

Vaccinations are free. They are available at health departments in Whitfield and Murray counties as well as pharmacies across the state.

The North Georgia Health District offered these tips to help prevent contracting or spreading COVID:

• Staying home and isolating themselves if they develop COVID symptoms, which can often resemble cold or flu symptoms.

• Getting a COVID test promptly if symptoms develop.

• Getting a COVID test before traveling or gathering with people who do not live with you, and again three to five days after traveling or gathering.

• Wear masks or face coverings in indoor public spaces, and when gathering indoors with people who do not live with you.

Free COVID PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing is available through public health in North Georgia at Mako Medical sites. To learn more and to register for testing, go to bit.ly/FREECoVTestingInNorthGA. Statewide lists of both commercial and DPH/MAKO Medical Testing sites are available at dph.georgia.gov/covidtesting. Also, home COVID-19 tests are available at many drugstores.

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