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SLO County provides update on rapid surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by now dominant Omicron variant

SLO County Coronavirus 3
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SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- San Luis Obispo County Public Health provided an update Tuesday morning on the recent surge of COVID-19 cases being fueled by the Omicron variant.

Speaking to county supervisors at a board meeting that was closed to the public due to the current state of the virus, Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein expressed concerns how COVID-19 is impacting the community.

"It is taking its toll," said Borenstein. "This is really related to Omicron at this point."

Borenstein said the county expected to see a rise in cases during the holidays, but the case growth has been unprecedented from previous case surges.

"Over the past seven days, we've had more than 1,700 cases, and in the days following Christmas and New Years," said Borenstein. "Our case daily case counts have numbered upwards of 400, even 500, and this compares to the beginning the month of December when we would have about 30 cases on a daily average."

She also revealed the Omicron variant is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the county, accounting for 75% of all cases.

While she acknowledged the variant is proving to be a milder strain in comparison to the Delta variant, especially for individuals that are vaccinated, it is still worrisome.

"With the rate of increase and the number of cases we have of this very, very transmissible disease, even at a smaller percentage of individuals having severe impacts from it, it still is proving itself to have widespread implications for severe disease, hospitalizations, and now we're starting to see the uptick in deaths," said Borenstein.

As case counts begin to rise, Borenstein added hospitalizations and deaths are beginning to rise from previous numbers.

"We have been trending upward," said Borenstein. "We have been somewhat stabilized. 38 individuals in the hospital (Monday), eight of whom are in intensive care, and our death numbers have risen just slowly, but it's important to note, with both of these indicators that they typically lag behind rises in cases."

Two deaths are being reported since last Friday, with seven more still awaiting final confirmation from death certificates.

Contract tracing is also being directly affected by the huge volume of cases to the extent that Public Health is no longer able to provide it to all individuals that test positive.

"We are no longer able to keep up with the numbers that we're seeing," said Borenstein. "We're only able to contact those at particularly at higher risk, the very young, the very old, and those at congregate care settings."

Borenstein emphasized that county hospitals that have been stretched thin the past two years from the pandemic are now straining more than ever due to the Omicron surge.

"Our hospitals are feeling the pressure," said Borenstein. "They are particularly seeing these Covid cases alongside other things that are hitting the hospitals in larger numbers than they did in the summer. We've got a lot of influenza going on. We have a lot of people traveling and moving about the community in quote, unquote normal ways over the holidays, so lots of injuries and accidents, so together, the hospitals are really feeling the pressure again."

The demand for testing is far outpacing testing capabilities by the Public Health Department as hundreds of people seek appointments daily.

"We're seeing these impacts at our testing sites," said Borenstein. "We have been operating at over capacity, and unfortunately we're largely no longer able to take walk-ins because of the demand on our system."

She added the county is hoping to increase capability as soon as possible, perhaps as soon as this week.

"We are adding testing capacity, so at a couple of our sites, we're able to add lanes, Morro Bay, Grover Beach, we still also have our SLO Veterans Hall and Paso Robles we have sites," said Borenstein. "We're hope to not turn people away. We know there's a great demand for home tests that aren't available, so we're hoping to get our hands on more of those as well."

For more information or to check the latest numbers of COVID-19 in San Luis Obispo County, click here.

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

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