Omicron is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus in America and is currently the largest “wave” of cases to hit Georgia since the pandemic began in 2020, driving testing supply shortages, long testing lines, strains on the healthcare workers, and increased COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Last Wednesday, Gov. Brian Kemp announced $100 million in new spending to fight the latest outbreak, after Georgia recorded the highest single day new case count since January, clocking in at 13,760 confirmed COVID cases.

Up to 200 National Guard troops are set for deployment in Georgia to help understaffed and overcrowded hospitals and to man testing sites.

Morgan County schools announced Monday that renewed COVID restrictions would be immediately implemented to help slow the spread in the face of a significant holiday spike in COVID cases that is alarming health officials across the state.

As of Monday, Jan. 3, The Georgia Department of Health could not even complete the daily COVID count because the surge of coronavirus testing and positive results in recent weeks has overwhelmed their system.

“The daily status report will not update today, Jan. 3 due to a large amount of data overwhelming the system,” said a press release from the GDPH. “We are working to fix the problem.”

As of Friday, Dec. 31, Morgan County reported 171 new coronavirus cases in the last two weeks. However, health officials believe the count is far higher due to testing shortages and lagging results on the health department’s website.

Over the weekend, Amber Schmidtke, one of the premier medical researchers tracking COVID data in Georgia, released a report detailing the current COVID situation in the Peach State.

“Here’s where things are for Georgia this week compared to where we’ve been,” wrote Schmidtke. “In the most recent week, cases rose 153 percent, hospital admissions rose 62 percent, ICU admissions rose 6 percent and deaths rose 27 percent.”

Just 51 percent of all eligible Georgians are fully vaccinated as of Jan. 3, 2022.

While hospitals across the state are experiencing an influx of COVID patients, Morgan Medical Center has ample bed availability currently, with just four COVID patients hospitalized as of Tuesday, Jan. 4.

However, patients seeking COVID tests are at an all-time high at the GDPH drive-through testing site at the hospital and inside the hospital’s emergency room. The positivity rate has jumped by nearly half since September, going from just a 9 percent average positive rate from September to mid-December and skyrocketing to a 50 percent positivity rate in the last week.

“The drive through continued to see high numbers with 234 tests on Friday and 291 on Monday. The site was closed Saturday and Sunday,” said Megan Morris, director of community relations and public affairs for Morgan Medical Center.

“The Emergency Department tested 309 individuals between Dec. 26, 2021 and Janu. 1, 2022 with a 50 percent positivity rate. This is a significant increase over the 34 percent the week prior and the 9 percent average from September through Dec. 19.”

While hospitalizations and deaths also increased in recent weeks in Georgia due to COVID, the Omicron variant, so far, is less severe than the Delta variant.

“This variant seems to be more highly contagious but is not resulting in symptoms that are requiring as many hospitalizations as others did,” said Morris.

Morris elaborated on the sudden spike in COVID cases and testing demands in recent weeks.

Numbers at the drive through clinic started trending up a few days before Christmas with an average of 60 tests per day and a 14 percent positivity rate. Prior to that, they had been testing about 20 people per day since the beginning of September, explained Morris.

“The site has seen significant increases since Christmas, testing anywhere from 250-315 people a day with an average positivity rate of 19 percent. We have also seen an increase in testing in the Emergency Department,” she sais. “Prior to the week of Christmas, we tested approximately 60 people per week with an average positivity rate of 9 percent. The week of Christmas we tested 165 patients with a positivity rate of 34 percent.”

Morris also noted positive flu cases are on the rise as well.

“We have also seen an increase in the flu in the community. The week of Christmas we saw a 24 percent positivity rate with 120 tests. All flu that we have seen to this point has been Type A,” said Morris.

Health officials are warning that the rate of spread could worsen labor shortages, supply chain issues, and essential businesses and services operations due to the number of workers expected to be out sick with COVID.

“Because when this many people get sick at once, we should anticipate that everyday life is going to face significant disruption,” wrote Schmidtke in her report on Jan. 1. “As much as we have been hearing about supply chain problems this year, it’s possible that with this many people sick at once we will see additional problems. It’s a good idea to make sure you have a month’s worth of prescription medications and other necessities on hand (if you can afford to do so) and to pick up a reasonable amount of toilet paper — get enough for 4 weeks, not 4 years.”

Morgan County schools are taking action to help deter further spread when students return to school this week.

“With the spread rate increasing in our community over the break along with a more contagious variant, we plan to reinstitute enhanced mitigation strategies effective at the beginning of the second semester,” said a statement from Dr. Virgil Cole, superintendent of Morgan County Schools.

“As we did earlier this year, we are going to temporarily restrict non-essential visitors, limit field trips, encourage students and staff to wear a mask, reduce large group gatherings, and socially distance to the extent possible. Our adherence to these guidelines allowed us to remain in-person throughout last year and the first semester where many school systems were not so fortunate. We are confident that we can successfully navigate through these challenging times.”

The school system is urging parents to keep sick children at home and will excuse all absences due to quarantining for COVID infection or exposure.

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