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Mayor Greg Fischer, joined by Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Department of Public Health and Wellness (LMPHW), Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage, the department’s associate medical director and Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor, medical director for the University of Louisville (UofL), today announced the first confirmed case of the omicron variant in Louisville as the city recently marked a first anniversary of the arrival the vaccines.
“The sad fact is that we have lost nearly 1,800 residents to COVID-19. We know the toll would have been significantly worse without the vaccines,” the Mayor said. “The omicron variant is presenting greater challenges in terms of its infection rate, and we’ve seen this all over the world. It has been slow to get to Louisville, but it’s here now and its replicability is very fast. Within the next couple of weeks, it will be the dominant strain in our city.”
But preparation is the key to preventing becoming ill with the coronavirus, and now is the time to complete the first and second series of vaccination, or get a booster dose if eligible, the Mayor said.
“The science is indicating that Pfizer and Moderna boosters provide strong protection against infection and serious illness against omicron,” he said. “The more we learn about this omicron variant, the more we expect boosters to be absolutely critical to getting through a future wave without the jam-packed hospitals and medical centers we saw right here in Louisville a year or so ago. Those boosters — and first and second doses of the vaccines — are available at locations throughout the city.”
Here are the key COVID-19 data metrics for Dec. 21, 2021:
Dr. Hartlage noted that today marks the anniversary of the LouVax team’s first meeting. Although Louisville has come a long way with vaccinations, Dr. Hartlage reported that the first case of omicron has been confirmed. The 26-year-old patient had no travel history, mild symptoms and completed her vaccination series earlier this year but had not had a booster dose. After the patient was diagnosed, she was treated with monoclonal antibody infusion therapy and “is doing well,” Dr. Hartlage said.
“The jury is out on how severe omicron may or may not be, but it’s very, very contagious and very transmissible,” she said. “We need to remind everyone that a small percentage of a very large number is still a large number. Even if a percentage of folks having severe infections is low, it can still place a big strain on the healthcare system.”
Increase in flu cases
Cases of the flu have increased significantly, however, getting a flu vaccine, wearing face coverings, and practicing social distancing and good hand washing can reduce catching the virus, Dr. Hartlage said. More than 400 cases of the flu have been reported, and she strongly urged residents to get a flu vaccine.
“You certainly don’t want to be get infected with the flu and COVID at the same time,” she said. “You don’t want to get hospitalized with the flu, because the hospital resources will be limited with COVID surging.”
Residents can get both flu and COVID vaccines at the same time, Dr. Hartlage said.
UofL’s hospitals are starting to see a considerable increase in COVID-19 cases, said UofL’s medical director Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor.
“Our ER and hospitals are full. Our staff members are not immune to COVID either, so we have employees who are out, too. It’s definitely a challenge,” she said. “We’re not considered in a surge right now, but we’re already seeing a lot of utilization of resources. We’re also worried about what will happen over the next few weeks especially as people gather for the holidays, and omicron is here.”
Emphasizing the same important message as the public health experts on today’s panel, Dr. Briones-Pryor strongly encouraged residents to get vaccinated.
“The cases I have been seeing and taking care of in the hospital today are unvaccinated patients, and they are not doing well,” she said. “The ones who have done well are all vaccinated patients. The goal for this season is to not be admitted to the hospital.”
Holiday safety measures
According to reports, the omicron variant is spreading rapidly across the United States, disappointing hopes of returning to normalcy during the holiday season. Dr. Moyer provided several tips for people “to reduce the risk to themselves, their families, and others to lower the impact of the expected surge on the health care system and the community,” she said.
· Businesses and healthcare facilities should plan for impacts on the workforce and reduce risk in the workplace.
· Schools may also see impacts from more cases in staff and students after the winter break.
· Now is the best time to reinforce risk reduction measures, including universal indoor masking, ventilation and communicating that employees, students, teachers should stay home when they have signs of illness.
· For the public: Our sense of connection and well-being to gather with friends, family and loved ones must be done safely by limiting the number and size of indoor gatherings, if you can.
Dr. Moyer added, “To make things safer right now:
With the dramatic rise in cases expected over the next few weeks, Dr. Moyer said more people will test positive. She strongly urged people who test positive to:
Dr. Hartlage added that’s it’s good for individuals and families to have a COVID action plan in place for themselves.
“If you have symptoms, where are you going to go to get tested? Can you safely isolate away from others? If you have pets or children who will help you take care of them if you become ill? It’s good to think through those things before you get sick,” she said.
View this week’s COVID-19 briefing with public health officials here.
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The city’s COVID-19 data dashboard, a complete list of COVID-19 testing sites, vaccine information, prevention and more can be found at www.louisville.gov/covid19. The LOU HEALTH COVID19 Helpline is also available: 502-912-8598.
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