Omicron variant continues to grip Chester County01/11/2022 03:56PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Despite the fact that 95 percent of the nearly 525,000 Chester County residents eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination have gotten at least one and that 73 percent have been fully vaccinated, the omicron variant of the virus has continued to sweep across the county in recent weeks at a transmission rate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined to be at the highest level.
In statistics provided by the Chester County Health Department, 6,103 new positive cases for the virus were diagnosed from the period beginning on Dec. 31, 2021 and ending Jan. 6, 2022, at age levels ranging from 0-9 to over 100. Of the 11 age groups, those in the 20-29-year-old range were hit the hardest, with 1,148 testing positive over that time.
The Health Department has also determined that over the most recent 30-day period, 15,939 county residents have tested positive for the virus, with those in the 20-29, 30-39, 40-49 and 50-59 age groups all recording more than 2,000 positive results.
Nationwide, the news is equally as alarming. The CDC’s data tracker reported that there have been 60,240,751 recorded positive cases of COVID-19 across the U.S. in the past 7 days, and that 99 percent of U.S. counties have been determined to have high transmission rates for the virus – with only 24 counties receiving substantial, moderate or low rates.
While medical experts have begun to publicly project that the rate of COVID-19 cases will begin to crest by as soon as the middle of January, they seem feeble against the onslaught of a virus that continues its upward trajectory throughout Chester County, Pennsylvania and the entire U.S. – one that has led to over 600,000 newly-reported cases and 2,105 deaths on Jan. 7 alone, and a total of nearly 60 million cases and 834,077 deaths in the U.S. and 37,522 in Pennsylvania.
In a Jan. 7 teleconference, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky echoed the severity of the spread, saying that Omicron has “rapidly become the predominant variant and cases have substantially increased rates higher than we have seen at any point throughout this pandemic.”
Ratcheting those numbers down, Walensky said, could find solutions in schools.
Addressing the surge of COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant and how it has impacted schools, Walensky said that the CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine – as well as vaccine recommendations for children aged 5 to 17 -- provide the tools necessary to get these schools reopened for in-person learning and to keep them open for the rest of the school year.
Stating that vaccinations are the “best tool we have to protect our children from COVID-19,” Walensky said that while children still have the lowest rate of hospitalization of any group, pediatric hospitalizations are at the highest rate compared to any prior point in the pandemic, which she said was largely due to the fact that just over 50 percent of U.S. children aged 12 to 17 are vaccinated, and only 16 percent of those aged 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.
Further, Walensky pointed to CDC data that reported that the rate of COVID-19 associated hospitalizations in unvaccinated adolescents aged 12 to 17 was 11 times higher than fully vaccinated adolescents of the same age range. She urged parents whose children are not yet eligible for vaccinations to provide them with protection at home, day care and preschools from those who have been vaccinated against the virus.
“It has been nearly two years since CDC activated its emergency response for COVID- 19,” she said. “Throughout that time, this virus has changed and is constantly throwing us curve balls. As this virus changes, the science changes and through it all, the scientists across CDC have worked every day to stay current in our recommendations. Incorporating the latest science into our guidance and partnering with state and local public health to provide recommendations that are both feasible and can be implemented in communities across the country.”
Close to home, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has begun to operate multiple free COVID-19 public testing sites across the state in partnership with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare (AMI).
“The Department of Health continues making COVID-19 testing accessible, available, and flexible for Pennsylvanians at hundreds of locations – and this public testing site is just another example of that,” Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter said while visiting a recently opened testing site in Delaware County testing site last week. “We encourage anyone who feels they need or want a test, especially if they think they have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, to take advantage of the free COVID-19 testing closest to them. This includes fully vaccinated individuals who are experiencing symptoms.”
Two additional testing sites in Chester County
The Chester County Health Department has recently set up two additional locations for COVID-19 testing providers to establish free test sites, available by appointment around the county. Free PCR testing is now available at the Chester County Government Services Center, Westtown Road in West Chester and at the Technical College High School – Pennock’s Bridge Campus, located at 280 Pennock’s Bridge Road in West Grove.
Both of these locations will be independently operated by the testing company Curative, which will manage test site locations, logistics and schedules, as well as appointments. Further testing locations are being rolled out across Chester County and will be announced soon.
The department continues to offer vaccine appointments, both primary series (first and second doses) and boosters for all eligible individuals at the Government Services Center on Westtown Road in West Chester, and at the Kennett Fire Company’s Red Clay Room in Kennett Square.
Retail pharmacies such as CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart are administering tests at their locations free of charge throughout the county.
“This time of high demand for all COVID-19 PCR and antigen tests, which follows the holiday season, means that all test providers are experiencing a tremendous volume of work, and most are undertaking testing by appointment only,” said CCHD Director Jeanne Franklin. “We ask anyone needing a test to check regularly for availability of appointments at all locations. If you cannot find a test and are experiencing COVID-like symptoms, it is recommended that you stay home for five days and limit your interaction with others.”
The department is asking community members who have received a positive result from an at-home COVID-19 test to report their results under the “Testing Information” section of www.chesco.org/coronavirus.
“Reporting of positive-only results from at-home tests helps us to understand how the virus is spreading in our communities and ensures those who test positive receive the most current information regarding isolation and notifying their close contacts,” Franklin said. “These results are not included as part of our data reporting, and as with any information such as this, it is treated as confidential and would never be shared.”
Web links to all test sites in Chester County can be found on the CCHD website, www.chesco.org/coronavirus.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].