Dr. Vincent Hsu

Dr. Vincent Hsu, AdventHealth’s executive director of infection prevention, at last week’s COVID-19 news briefing. 

At last Wednesday’s AdventHealth News Briefing, Dr. Vincent Hsu, the hospital system’s executive director of infection prevention, cautioned that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. 

He said, while the omicron variant has caused milder illness for some people compared with earlier variants, “It is not the common cold. You don’t see people hospitalized and on ventilators with the common cold.”

Serious symptoms, such as respiratory distress, are still being seen in hospitalized patients.

According to AdventHealth, about 630 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout its Central Florida hospitals as of Jan. 5, said Hsu.

While the hospital system is still able to manage the caseload, that could change as the pandemic continues. People should avoid going to an emergency room just for a COVID-19 test, Hsu said, and instead seek a home test, a county-run testing site or an appointment at a pharmacy or health care facility.

Hsu did acknowledge the difficulty people are having finding home tests, as well as the lengthy lines found at many county-run testing sites.

People ordering tests from Amazon also are running into delays, with delivery dates pushed out at least two weeks for many. 

At the Clermont Department of Health-Lake office, however, those seeking tests were able to be in and out of the site’s parking lot within an hour, as seen last Wednesday morning. And, according to anecdotal information, test kits are still available at area stores, though difficult to find.

As cases increase across the state again, the Florida Department of Health issued new guidance Jan. 6 related to testing:

 Individuals with COVID-19 symptoms who are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should get tested for COVID-19 soon after symptom onset, and they should seek early monoclonal antibody or antiviral drug treatment and other medical treatment as necessary.

Those with symptoms who are not at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should consider getting tested soon after symptom onset and seek medical treatment only as necessary.

The FDOH also says “COVID-19 testing is unlikely to have any clinical benefits” for those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but have no symptoms. This goes against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, which states, “Diagnostic testing is intended to identify current infection in individuals and should be performed on anyone that has signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and/or following recent known or suspected exposure to SARS-CoV-2.”

As of Jan. 3, the CDC reported a 17.59% positivity rate in testing in Sumter County. In Lake County, that percentage is 30.09%.

Hsu reiterated the need for vaccines and booster shots, which he said are proving effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19. About 70% of COVID-19 patients in AdventHealth’s Intensive Care Units are unvaccinated, according to Hsu.

“The pandemic is not over,” he said. “The virus does not care what we think.”

In addition to vaccinations, he stressed the importance of well-fitting masks, noting KN95 masks or double-masking with cloth and surgical masks are showing to be effective. And, keeping our distance from one another is helpful.

“I recognize it is very hard to change our behaviors,” he said in the briefing. “I’m tired. You’re tired. But hang in there.” 

Omicron is unlikely to be the final surge of the pandemic, according to Hsu, who said he expects to see another variant, another surge. 

“With abundant evidence that the virus continues to mutate and reinfect people who have been previously infected, it appears likely new variants will continue to present challenges,” AdventHealth said in a news release.

But vaccines will continue to play a large role in keep disruptions to daily lives to a minimum.

“If you have to choose between repeated infections or the vaccine, it would make much more sense to get the vaccine and avoid that illness,” Hsu said.

Should you get tested for COVID-19? If you have symptoms or have been around someone who is infected, health care professionals recommend you do so. Visit https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/testing-sites for COVID-19 testing sites.

For general information on COVID-19 in Florida, email covid-19@flhealth.gov, visit

 www.floridahealth.gov/covid-19 or call 866-779-6121.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine near you, visit vaccines.gov, text your zip code to 438829 or call 1-800-232-0233. You can also visit 

https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/vaccines/vaccine-locator.

Call the Sumter County Health Department at 352-569-3102 and Department of Health-Lake at 352-589-6424 for local information.

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