Officials keep an eye on hospital staffing strain, as less severe but more infection COVID variant spreads

New Year, New COVID-19 Guidance and New Variants…
It was March 17, 2020, when Medina County announced its first case of COVID-19. Since then, 7,209 cases have been reported of a virus that has forever changed us.
In 2022, we will face more COVID; a new, more transmissible variant, and more unknowns about its trajectory and severity. We have the tools we need to fight back and help us move forward. We have new treatments, vaccines, and our current strategies to lower our risk of getting sick, like masks, distancing, and hygiene measures that are proven to help. This should give us confidence that we can get through this outbreak and can handle it much better than in the past. Hospital data and how sick individuals are getting from COVID-19 will be more of a focus than overall case counts although case counts will still be important to track.
Our vaccine data
This year is starting out to be rough, but good news on the vaccine front. So far out of 48,707 Medina County residents, 30,188 people have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, 26,664 people are fully vaccinated and 8,339 have received a booster. This layer of protection gives us and those around us the ability to adapt and fight back. Vaccines provide a shield for us and we are still working hard at getting more people vaccinated. We know vaccines are doing the job they need to do– prevent severe complications and they are our best weapon. We have vaccines, come and see us.
Important public health messages
There are a few very important public health messages that will help you be prepared as we start a new year. We learned that nothing is black and white and what is said one day can change quickly to something else. The Omicron variant accounts for the majority of infections right now. There are some positive data that it may turn out to be a milder virus compared to Delta, but with a sharp rise in infections, hospitals will ultimately be strained even if it turns out to be less severe. What changed here is that the Omicron variant is even more transmissible and will affect both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. More people testing positive can lead to staffing shortages and in healthcare, this is especially bad. The constant pandemic strain on hospitals challenges their ability to keep going, stay strong and hang in there. We need our healthcare workers now more than ever. Thank them every chance you get. We should do what we can to stay well and keep hospital beds open for people who need them with COVID or any other issues. On that note, about 70% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in our region are unvaccinated persons. This is a good reason to get vaccinated– it helps our healthcare workers focus on other severe illnesses and diseases and get back to manageable levels.
Signs and symptoms of the new variant
To make things harder, the Omicron symptoms might mimic the common cold, including cough, fatigue, headache, runny nose, congestion, and maybe a sore throat. Not having taste or smell is not going to be a telltale sign with Omicron and you may or may not have a fever. Unless you are tested for COVID-19, you would not know the difference in symptoms. The Delta variant is still circulating and has a wide range of COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone can have mild symptoms to severe disease. Getting tested is important if you are going to be around others, especially those most vulnerable, or those who have health issues already.

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Case counts
COVID-19 is spreading fast right now, keeping up with data or case counts will be difficult and the holidays didn’t help. Many home tests are being done and not reported and people may not get tested if they feel they have allergies or mild symptoms. Lack of access to testing kits will also be a problem. There is a major shortage of test kits driven by supply and demand.
A few updates on isolation and quarantine
Isolation (for those who are positive with COVID-19) A simple rule is to stay home if you are sick, even with cold symptoms. Get tested if you can. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate themselves from others. CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation to 5 days followed by 5 days of wearing a mask this is if you don’t have symptoms, if symptoms have improved and if you do not have a fever. However, for those whose symptoms have not improved or have a fever, it is recommended to isolate for 10 days after symptoms onset.
Quarantine (for those exposed to someone who has COVID-19) For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by mask use for an additional 5 days. If a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, they should wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but it is recommended to wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. For all those exposed, best practice includes a test for SARS-CoV-2 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not due to COVID-19.
Looking forward
This year will be a change in how we view COVID-19, we are learning to live with it and will have strategies and tools to work with. Take care of your mental and physical health, and we wish you a happy and healthy new year.
VACCINE DATA UPDATE (estimated) since 12/20/2021
People that are fully vaccinated age 5 and older:
Medina County 54.74% up from 54.44% (65+ fully vaccinated 76.01%)
Texas 61.03% up from 60.42%
CASE DATA UPDATE (estimated) since 12/20/2021
Confirmed Cases: 4,965
Probable Cases: 2244
Fatalities: 173 (+2)
Active Cases: 98 (+30)
Recovered: 6,932
By Patricia Mechler
Medina County Health Unit