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More accurate testing increasingly important with fast-spreading Omicron variant

Jefferson County Public Health has a new tool to more accurately test for the COVID virus. "It's a different technique," says Public Health Director Michael Baker. The machine uses nucleic acid in the testing process, and the machine reads the test for the medical personnel. "It tells us if it's a valid test. It's more accurate."

The Omicron variant often does not present with as high a viral load as the Delta variant, for example. So, a more accurate test helps detect those subtle cases. "If you're symptomatic but you're testing negative," says Baker, "let's get you on the machine and see what we can test there."

Baker notes other communities across the nation see lines of people waiting for testing and vaccinations, while in Jefferson County testing and vaccinations are readily available every weekday, and testing even on the weekend. "The more tests we do as a community the better we understand how widespread the virus is and the better we can adjust our behavior accordingly," says Baker, who believes testing is the key to getting past this pandemic. "We've shown we're not going to vaccinate our way out of this, we've shown we're not going to mask or social distance our way out of this, but I truly believe we could test our way out of this."

Baker believes the Delta variant is still the dominant variant in Jefferson County, but he sees the wave of Omicron coming. In his discussions with St. Charles Health Care and other health care professionals they expect the peak of hospitalizations from Omicron to hit in February.

While Omicron comes with milder symptoms, it is highly infectious so epidemiologists expect more cases. "With the increase in cases, even with less severe cases, statistically when you get more people sick you get the higher likelihood that one of those persons may require hospitalization," says Baker.

As he's said since the beginning of the pandemic, masking helps reduce the spread of the virus. "One person wearing a mask is worthless," he says, "but when the entire community is wearing a mask, when you have those multiple layers of protection, that's when there's the most protection."


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