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Acknowledging 'pandemic fatigue,' health director offers guidance during surge

Public health has realized for some time that many people are experiencing some level of pandemic fatigue or Covid-19 fatigue as described by the American Medical Association.

We’re all weary of the restrictions and guidance about wearing masks and physical distancing. No one imagined that 21 months after the beginning of the pandemic that we’d be facing our most severe phase with the current Omicron variant.
Despite the challenges we face today, we will prevail through this current surge and hope to see a significant decline with cases in the next 3 or 4 weeks if current projections hold true. Here are the essential pieces of information you need to know to protect yourself and your loved ones in the weeks ahead.
The risk of contracting Covid-19 today is higher than it has ever been before.
The Omicron variant has proven to be incredibly contagious, and it is usually quantified as being 3 to 4 times more infectious than the Delta variant. We have surpassed our prior peak with the Delta variant and this current surge may eventually triple or quadruple the volume of cases that we’re experiencing now. Look at our daily new cases rate per 100,000 (7 day rolling average) to gauge the volume and rapid expansion of cases:






In the United States today, there are states with daily new case rates approaching 400, Rhode Island is at 504. In North Carolina today, there are counties with daily new case rates that are now approaching 400. It is reasonable to assume that local case increases will follow this same pattern.

Do I need to do something different to protect myself and others during this surge?
The short answer is yes. We all need to change and adapt our strategies for the Omicron variant. Here are several key steps you can take to better protect yourself and others:
1. If you are vaccinated and eligible for a booster, please consider getting that booster as soon as possible. The original vaccination series (2 doses of Moderna or Pfizer or 1 dose of J & J vaccine) is not as effective against the Omicron variant as the Delta variant. A booster significantly increases your level of vaccine protection.
More breakthrough cases are happening with the Omicron variant, but vaccinations are still highly effective at reducing hospitalizations and deaths. Being up to date with a booster also prevents you from being placed in quarantine should you be exposed to a positive case.
2. If you are unvaccinated, please consider consulting with your physician about your risk factors and the benefits of vaccination. It might not prevent you from getting infected with Covid-19 but will lessen your chances of severe health outcomes. Our 2 local hospitals report that 90% of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated. Vaccinations are still the most effective way to protect yourself. Get the facts from your usual trusted medical professional.
3. Also consider a different approach with face coverings whether you are vaccinated or not. These remain a primary recommendation to provide another layer of protection, particularly for indoor public settings. The Omicron variant spreads more easily, and we have multiple documented cases where people aren’t even aware of how they became exposed. Even very minor time-limited exposures can result in a positive case.
Ideally, upgrade your mask type from a cloth face covering to a surgical mask or KN95 mask. These latter 2 options provide more protection for you when around others. Public health does not recommend an N95 mask for the general public. These are still only necessary for those in healthcare or extreme exposure environments.
4. If you are symptomatic stay home, self-isolate and seek testing. Testing availability and supply are limited at this time. If you have symptoms and are unable to get tested assume you are positive for Covid-19 or the flu and self-isolate. Obtain a test as soon as you are able. Close contact should wear masks in all interactions. If close contacts become symptomatic, they too should immediately isolate and obtain a test, if possible.
These simple strategies can help us achieve the objectives we originally established with many public health partners as part of our pandemic response plan. Reduce the transmission of disease, protect the most vulnerable and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
We will be challenged on all fronts in the coming days. We ask for your help to achieve the best possible outcomes during this difficult phase. Thank you for everything you are already doing to keep yourself and others safe. It matters.
Better days are ahead.

Steve Smith
Health Director, Henderson County Department of Public Health