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PHOTO COURTESY ADVENTHEALTH ONE MORE DOSE — An AdventHealth worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine during a shot clinic in Daytona Beach in 2020.

With the holiday season in full swing, AdventHealth Central Florida is encouraging people to be proactive in the face of a new COVID-19 variant. During an online press conference Dec. 21, Chief Medical Officer at AdventHealth Orlando Victor Herrera stressed the importance of mitigation methods known to be effective like vaccination and masking. 

“I think at this point we know the things that work,” Herrera said. “I would say enjoy your holidays, eat with family, do it in a safe way and obviously a reminder that vaccines have really demonstrated that they decrease the risk of transmission and boosters now have demonstrated they decrease the risks associated with the omicron variant.”

Hospitalizations are low across the AdventHealth Central Florida hospital system — which includes hospitals in Orange and Volusia counties — now, but the number of COVID-positive patients at AdventHealth urgent care clinics is up. That positivity rate can serve as a bellwether for potential spikes in hospitalizations.

“Right now our [hospital] census is low for COVID-19 patients,” Herrera said. “But typically that positivity rate when that increases, it correlates with more or less a two-week lag of us starting to see an increase in hospitalizations.”

AdventHealth Central Florida has yet to identify a hospitalized patient with the recently identified omicron COVID-19 variant, and, as of Dec. 20, the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County had not yet identified a case in the county. 

Current research, Herrera noted, suggests the omicron variant is more transmissible than past variants of the virus, and it is likely there are cases in the community.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Omicron variant now accounts for more cases of COVID-19 nationwide than any other variant of the virus.

AdventHealth Orlando Chief Medical Officer Dr. Victor Herrera

What can be done to combat the virus? The doctor’s prescription was not dissimilar from past ones: Get vaccinated, wear a mask when social distancing is not possible and remember that gathering outdoors is generally safer than gathering indoors. 

One new recommendation had to do with booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Before we were giving boosters, we started to notice after six months the breakthrough infections started to increase,” Herrera said. 

He continued, “Boosters are part of getting vaccinated. I think that initially we believed it was sort of a bonus … we’re convinced now that it’s really part of your vaccination.”

During the week of Dec. 10-16, the Florida Department of Health reported 300 new cases of COVID-19 in Volusia County. During the previous week, the state health department reported 365 cases locally. Statewide, from the week of Dec. 3 to the week of Dec. 10, new cases of the virus more than doubled — jumping from 13,481 to 29,568. 

For more information about COVID-19 vaccination and treatment, visit www.floridahealthCOVID19.gov

As of Dec. 16, 70 percent of all Floridians age 5 and up had received a COVID-19 vaccine. In Volusia County, 335,330, or 64 percent of all people age 5 and up, were reported as vaccinated by the Department of Health. 

For more information about where to find a COVID-19 vaccination, be it your first or your third shot, visit www.vaccines.gov.

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