Getting vaccinated

A FEMA employee helps register a person at a drive-through vaccine clinic at the Pony Village Mall.

The Omicron variant is creeping closer to Coos County, and local public health officials expect the new COVID variant to start impacting Coos County s early as this week.

Dr. Eric Gleason, assistant director of Coos Health and Wellness, reported Thursday that the first Omicron case had been confirmed in Douglas County. That news came after Oregon began seeing a spike in cases, most in the Portland area.

"It's going to get here," Gleason said. "It's going to get here in a few days. When it hits, there's not going to be a whole lot we can do other than what we've done in the last 22 months."

Gleason also warned when the variant does arrive, it will likely have a big impact on local health-care providers.

"I think when you look at the national reports, you look at New York and pediatric hospitals are up 395%, we are going to see a surge," Gleason said. "The small hospitals are going to get overwhelmed quickly. That's a problem, and that's going to be a problem in rural areas likes this. Hopefully people will take it seriously."

With reports from the Northeast of hospitals being overwhelmed with people rushing to the hospital, Gleason had another warning for local residents - don't go to the hospital unless you are sick. Many media reports from the east coast say hundreds of people are rushing to the hospital to either get tested for COVID or after receiving a positive test, despite showing no smyptoms.

"That's a huge problem, esecially for smaller hospitals like ours," he said. "If you're going to the hospital just because you test positive, that is a waste of resources. If you are sick and you are struggling to breathe, go to the hospital. Don't go the ER because you had a positive test."

With the Omicron variant causing record numbers of cases, many locations are struggling to keep up with the demand for COVID testing. Coos County is no exception.

"Testing is available, but I know testing can be difficult," Gleason said. "A lot of places are running out of tests."

Through Thursday, Coos County reported 6,394 COVID cases since the pandemic began. As of Thursday, there were 310 active cases in the county with 124 people under monitoring. After three new deaths in the last week, the county reported 122 people had died after contracting the virus.

As of Thursday, there were 12 county residents hospitalized with COVID. Bay Area Hospital reported 10 COVID patients in the hospital, eight unvaccinated and two fully vaccinated. One patient was in the ICU.

After the CDC altered its guidance for those who test positive last week, saying they can return to work or normal life after five days of quarantine if they have no symptoms, Gleason said he preferred a more cautious approach.

"I think we should always be more cautious," Gleason said. Playing to the minimum won't get us out of this faster. This is an always-evolving process."

When Omicron does lead to a local spike, Gleason reiterated that only people seriously sick should go to the hospital. Those who test positive will understandably be scared, Gleason said, but the first resort should always be contacting your primary care provider.

"Don't panic if you don't feel well and you have a positive test," Gleason said.

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