Marion County's COVID-19 cases during omicron wave approach levels of delta surge

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People lined up for COVID-19 testing at the First Baptist Church of Ocala Wednesday morning, January 5, 2021. The Florida Department of Health in Marion County and COVID Test Florida LLC has teamed up to offer the drive-thru testing from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday during this spike in cases in the past week and half. Individuals should bring a valid photo ID, and minors must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
People lined up for COVID-19 testing at the First Baptist Church of Ocala Wednesday morning, January 5, 2021. The Florida Department of Health in Marion County and COVID Test Florida LLC has teamed up to offer the drive-thru testing from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday during this spike in cases in the past week and half. Individuals should bring a valid photo ID, and minors must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

There were 3,130 new COVID-19 cases recorded in Marion County for the seven-day period ending Jan. 6 – more than double the 1,543 cases reported the previous week, according to the Florida Department of Health. The most cases per week reported during the surge of the delta variant in late August was 3,228.

The state and country are seeing cases soar, particularly because of the omicron variant of the virus, which originated in South Africa and is highly transmissible. Department of Health in Marion County Administrator Mark Lander told county commissioners on Tuesday that omicron and the less contagious delta variant are driving about half of the spread each.

Marion's testing positivity rate was 24.6%, up from the previous week’s 17.4%. It is the highest rate in Marion County since late August, when positivity of 25.1% was reported.

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“The increase this week shows the severity of the spread of the virus throughout our community, and the need for people to take protective measures,” Lander said in a statement.

“It was encouraging to see the number of vaccines go back up this week. We encourage county residents to consider a COVID vaccine, or a booster if you are eligible for that. The shots remain the most effective way to prevent a serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19 for those age 5 or older.”

Six new deaths in Marion County

The running total of COVID-19 cases in Marion County since March 1, 2020 is now 62,790 — 16.9% of the population. CDC data showed 6,695 COVID-19 tests performed the week ending Dec. 30, an increase of 16.7% from the previous week.

There were six new deaths recorded since the previous week's report, bringing the total death count in Marion County to 1,803, though recording may be delayed until weeks after a death occurred.

The addition of 1,042 more people vaccinated this week brings the county total to 219,614. Of Marion County’s population aged 5 and older, 62% have received the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state’s vaccination rate is 72%.

CDC data also show 88 new hospitalizations for the seven days ending Tuesday, which is a 193.3% increase from the previous week.

The percentage of beds used for COVID-19 patients was 6%, a slight increase from last week. The percentage of intensive care unit beds used was 6.3%, the same as the previous week.

Florida statewide trends

The FDOH report showed all counties surrounding Marion County also had increasing COVID-19 case counts:

  • Alachua: 3,789

  • Citrus: 952

  • Flagler: 1,166

  • Lake: 4,108

  • Levy: 272

  • Putnam: 397

  • Sumter: 823

  • Volusia: 6,443

The new cases reported across the state for the week totaled 397,114, up from the previous week's 297,888. Four weeks ago, weekly cases totaled 13,451. The state's positivity rate was 31.2% this week, up from the prior week's 26.6%.

CDC data show Marion County and all other Florida counties — as well as most of the United States — now have a "high" level of community transmission.

In the Department of Health and Human Services Region 4, which includes Florida and seven other states, 97.5% of cases were caused by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, according to data for the week ending Jan. 1.

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Marion County offers regular, booster shots

The Florida Department of Health in Marion County and other local providers offer vaccines for people ages 5 and older.

The vaccine available for ages 5 to 11 is the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine, which has the same active ingredients as that given to adults and adolescents but only one-third the dose of the adult vaccine. It is also administered with smaller needles designed for children.

Two doses are recommended three weeks apart, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccinations are available Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 4:30 p.m. at the Florida Department of Health in Marion County, 1801 SE 32nd Ave., Ocala. Appointments can be made at tinyurl.com/MakeMarionFLVaxAppt, or walk-ins are also welcome.

All people 16 and older who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine are eligible for booster shots six months after the completion of their initial series, while those who received Johnson & Johnson must wait two months after their initial vaccination.

The Food and Drug Administration also expanded the Emergency Use Authorization of a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for youths 12-15 this week, and the CDC authorized the recommendation.

Per the CDC, individuals can "mix and match" which vaccine they receive as a booster when available. Many pharmacies, doctor's offices, clinics and health centers also offer vaccines. Other locations can be searched at bit.ly/3GWsBQm.

Monoclonal antibody treatment intended to prevent immunocompromised individuals from contracting the virus for up to six months is now available at some Florida sites. This is different from monoclonal treatments used to lessen the severity of symptoms after infection. Treatment sites can be searched at floridahealthcovid19.gov.

Testing increasing at First Baptist Church

COVID-19 testing is available at the First Baptist Church of Ocala, 2801 SE Maricamp Road. COVID Test FL is offering the drive-thru testing from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Individuals should bring a valid photo ID, and minors must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Test results are available for free with results within three days. A rapid 15-minute test costs $60. A PCR test with same-day results (if taken by 12:30 p.m.) costs $100 with insurance and $150 without. Next-day results are available for $50 with insurance and $100 without.

Testing is also available at many private labs, physicians' offices, pharmacies and walk-in clinics in the county.

Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at djohnson@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: COVID in Ocala, Marion County: Omicron variant leads to case increase

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