The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact local life as the Omicron variant spread through the Coastal Empire.
It’s prompted Pembroke and Richmond Hill officials to close their city hall lobbies to the public, and ask that people with business to conduct use either the drive through – in Pembroke’s case – or by telephone, drop boxes, email, snail mail and so on.
It’s also caused the Richmond Hill Martin Luther King Jr. Observance Committee to announce on social media it has postponed this year’s parade.
“Due to the rising Covid-19 cases locally, the RHMLK Observance Committee has postponed the 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. Parade scheduled for January 15, 2022. We made this difficult decision out of an abundance of caution and for the health and safety of our community,” the committee said. “All participants will be contacted regarding plans for rescheduling —more information to come.”
Why the precautions? The Omicron variant of COVID is on pace to surpass rates health officials said have not seen since the peak of the Delta variant in the Coastal Health District, which consists of eight coastal Georgia counties and includes Bryan County. On Wednesday afternoon Bryan had a positive test rate of about 35 percent, according to CHD Risk Communicator Ginger Heidel, who noted “that’s really high and shows that there is lot of infection in the community.”
According to CHD data available online, the county on Jan. 11 had a community transmission index, or new cases in the last 14 days per 100,000 residents, of 1,556. According to the CHD, anything over 100 cases per 100,000 residents is considered high. By contrast, on Dec. 27 the county’s community transmission index was 189.
Bryan County Schools and Bryan County government offices remain open, though the schools are operating under revised COVID-19 guidelines due to revisions to the Department of Public Health’s “sixteenth amended administrative order for public health control measures,” which was issued Dec. 29.
In a message to parents, Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher said, “As we continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, we must remain flexible and update procedures, as necessary. Based on the latest amendment to the Georgia Department of Public Health Administrative Order, the district’s COVID-19 Guidelines have been revised. Please take a moment to review the updated guidelines Bryan County Schools will follow as quarantine requirements have been reduced. Please note protocols may change at any time, but rest assured Bryan County Schools will promptly notify you should any additional changes occur.” The Coastal Health District’s weekly update on COVID initially struck a dire tone Jan. 7, noting, “The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is racing through communities in Georgia and the Coastal Health District, and infection rates are soaring.”
It continued: “The past week has seen record-breaking daily case counts in Georgia. We have been consistently seeing about 25,000 daily cases this week, more than double our previous records. And these are likely undercounts due to at-home tests and other reporting lags. The 14-day case rate, or Community Transmission Index, for Georgia is 2,221. This represents a 389% increase over the last 14 days.” But, the CHD notes “many helpful tools to fight Omicron like vaccination, boosters, testing, masks, quarantine, and isolation. There have been many new developments in eligibility and guidelines over the last several days. The newsletter urges residents who haven’t had their booster shot to get one, adding that “with the Omicron variant, preliminary research shows that vaccine effectiveness is lowered to about 35% with 2 doses of vaccine (although you’re still well protected against hospitalization and death), but protection increases to about 75% with a booster dose.” The CHD newsletter provided CDC updated booster dose guidelines, which are:
• People 12-17 years old should receive a booster shot 5 months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series.
• People who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine as their primary series are recommended to get a booster after 5 months instead of 6 months.
• Moderately or severely immunocompromised 5–11 year-olds should receive an additional primary dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine 28 days after their second shot.
The CHD also said booster doses for 12-15-year-olds should begin in the Coastal Health District very soon and an announcement will posted online “once we have received the official documentation for vaccinating this expanded group.: The Coastal Health District also provided updated CDC isolation and quarantine recommendations: “If you have COVID-19: People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.
“If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19: “If you are unvaccinated or more than 6 months out from your second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J& J vaccine) and you are not yet boosted, CDC recommends a quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days.
“If a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure.
“People who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure.
For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for COVID-19 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.
The Coastal Health District offers free testing. Go to the CHD website at https://covid19gachd.org for a schedule of testing events with links to pre-register.