Has omicron peaked? Marion County COVID-19 cases drop for second week in a row

·6 min read
Michael May, right, insets his swab into a test tube after swabbing the inside of his nose while getting tested for COVID-19 at the First Baptist Church of Ocala Wednesday morning, January 5.
Michael May, right, insets his swab into a test tube after swabbing the inside of his nose while getting tested for COVID-19 at the First Baptist Church of Ocala Wednesday morning, January 5.

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Following a drop off of COVID-19 cases across Florida last week, cases in Marion County declined for a second week in a row with a weekly total of 3,955 cases reported by the Florida Department of Health on Friday.

That's a 15.8% decrease from the previous week's 4,696 cases. Two weeks ago, 5,536 cases was the highest seen during the omicron surge and throughout the pandemic. During the surge of the delta variant in late August, cases had peaked at 3,228 in one week.

Marion's testing positivity rate for the week ending Jan. 27 was 32.3%, down from the previous week’s 33.3%, which marked the highest positivity rate across the delta and omicron surges so far.

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“We are cautiously optimistic that this latest variant has peaked, as shown by the decline in new cases and the positivity rate,” Department of Health in Marion County Administrator Mark Lander stated in a press release. “However, the transmission rate remains very high, and the decline in vaccinations is a cause for concern.

"We maintain our emphasis on protective measures, such as frequent hand-washing, staying home if you are sick, and considering getting a COVID vaccine if you have not gotten one, or getting a booster, if eligible," he said. "Vaccines remain the most effective tool to prevent serious illness or hospitalization from COVID.”

Marion County records 36 new deaths since last Friday

The running total of COVID-19 cases in Marion County since March 1, 2020 is now 76,962. CDC data showed 10,327 COVID-19 tests performed the week ending Jan. 21, a 15.1% drop from the previous week.

There were 24 new deaths reported last Friday and 12 this Friday, bringing the total death count in Marion County to 1,858, though recording may be delayed until weeks after a death occurred.

Another 510 people were vaccinated this week, down 134 from the week before, bringing the county total to 222,410 with at least one vaccination. It is the third week in a row vaccinations have declined. Of Marion County’s population age 5 and older, 63% have received a Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state’s vaccination rate is 73%.

The CDC reported that there were 255 hospitalizations in the seven days ending Wednesday, the same number as the previous week.

The percentage of beds used for COVID-19 patients was 23.4%, an increase of 2.4 percentage points from last week. The percentage of intensive care unit beds used was 24.3%, an unchanged from the previous week.

Florida statewide trends

The FDOH report showed counties surrounding Marion County all had decreasing COVID-19 case counts:

  • Alachua: 3,596

  • Citrus: 1,472

  • Flagler: 1,185

  • Lake: 3,603

  • Levy: 555

  • Putnam: 845

  • Sumter: 993

  • Volusia: 4,961

The new cases reported across the state for the week totaled 198,719, a 31.1% decrease from last week. The state's positivity rate was 23.5% this week, down from last week's 26.9%.

CDC data show Marion County and all other Florida counties — as well as most of the United States — have a "high" level of community transmission.

In the Department of Health and Human Services Region 4, which includes Florida and seven other states, 99.9% of cases were caused by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, according to data for the week ending Jan. 22.

Marion County offers regular, booster shots

The Florida Department of Health in Marion County and other local providers offer vaccines for people ages 5 and older.

Vaccinations are available Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 4:30 p.m. at the Florida Department of Health in Marion County, 1801 SE 32nd Ave., Ocala. Appointments can be made at tinyurl.com/MakeMarionFLVaxAppt, or walk-ins are also welcome.

All people 18 and older who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine are now eligible for booster shots five months after the completion of their initial series, while those who received Johnson & Johnson must wait two months after their initial vaccination.

A booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine is also authorized for youths 12-17 five months after their initial series.

The CDC now recommends booster shots for moderately to severely immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11. They may receive an additional Pfizer dose 28 days after their second dose.

Many pharmacies, doctor's offices, clinics and health centers also offer vaccines. Other locations can be searched at bit.ly/3GWsBQm.

Following the FDA's revised Emergency Use Authorizations for two monoclonal antibody treatments, citing ineffectiveness against the omicron variant, the Florida Department of Health has closed all state sites providing the treatment.

While sotrovimab antibody treatments are still authorized, the supply is too low to sustain state sites. Evusheld, a preventative antibody treatment for the immunocompromised, and oral antivirals Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are still available. Locations can be searched at floridahealthcovid19.gov/treatments/treatmentlocator.

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Testing opportunities extended at First Baptist Church

COVID-19 testing is available at the First Baptist Church of Ocala, 2801 SE Maricamp Road. COVID Test FL is offering the drive-thru testing from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Starting Jan. 29, the site will also be open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Individuals should bring a valid photo ID, and minors must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Tests are available for free with results within three days. A rapid 15-minute test costs $60. A PCR test with same-day results (if taken by 12:30 p.m.) costs $100 with insurance and $150 without. Next-day results are available for $50 with insurance and $100 without.

Testing is also available at many private labs, physicians' offices, pharmacies and walk-in clinics in the county.

Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at djohnson@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Ocala COVID update: Marion's cases decline, slight positivity decrease