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Orlando infectious disease specialist says omicron shouldn't disrupt Central Florida holiday plans

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Alastair Grant
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Dr. Jared Fox says the region's high vaccination rate is a good starting point, but indoor gatherings and delta could lead to a surge even if the state isn't a hotspot for the new variant.

A new COVID-19 strain, labeled omicron, has been declared a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization.  WMFE's Danielle Prieure spoke with Orlando Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Jarod Fox about the variant and its possible implications for Central Florida. 

Dr. Fox: So it’s going to be just a waiting game at this point to see whether it’s going to be really concerning for us or if it’s just going to be like some of our previous variants like the alpha variant and other variants that we thought may be of concern for us, but didn’t really pan out when they made it into the community.

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

WMFE: Right. I’ve read that it’s possible that this might spread a little easier. And again, it’s early days with this, is there a possibility that Central Florida could be a hotspot again?

It’s possible. The good thing is with Central Florida, we have a pretty good percentage of our population that are vaccinated. I think ... most of the counties in Central Florida have at least had 70%, of their population ... had at least one dose of the vaccine. So I’m hoping that that puts us in a little better starting point compared to when we started with the delta variant.

Yeah, absolutely. Do you think we’re gonna see long lines, again, with COVID testing sites here, and also vaccine sites with people hearing this information coming back from the holidays about this new variant?

It’s possible, especially with the testing sites that we may see long lines. The good thing is there’s a lot of testing sites available. So, hopefully, they’re not going to be enormous lines. And the same thing with the vaccine sites, with the wide range of places that you can get vaccinated now, I think we’re in a pretty good place when it comes to having the resources to vaccinate those that are still wanting to get vaccinated.

 In terms of the holidays, how concerned should we should we be? Should we plan on doing kind of virtual holidays again, with Christmas and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and New Year’s coming up with this new variant out there?

I would say if you’re vaccinated and your household is vaccinated that there shouldn’t be any reason why you can’t get together, especially if you incorporate testing, some of the rapid testing available along with it, especially for those that may not be able to get vaccinated like the really young individuals, the 5- to 11-year-olds, just recently, were able to get vaccinated and those under 5 haven’t had the opportunity yet to get vaccinated. So, if you incorporate the combination of making sure the ones that can be vaccinated, are vaccinated and those that can’t that you offer rapid testing for those I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t get together for the holidays.

Do you expect that we’ll see a surge in cases anyway, as people have just come back from Thanksgiving? I know I was at MCO (Orlando International Airport) and it was crazy there this weekend. Are we expecting to see cases rise anyway, regardless of this variant?

Dr. Fox: I expect we will see a rise regardless of the new variant because we’re still dealing with delta. So, especially those that aren’t vaccinated or those that have maybe not had a chance to get their booster yet that may have had initial vaccine months ago that we may be seeing some rising cases. Too early to say what that rise is going to look like. But I anticipate as we get into the winter months that as more people are staying inside with the colder weather that we will see increasing cases.

Copyright 2021 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Danielle Prieur