County officials: No Omicron yet
From staff reports
For national media outlets, concerns surrounding the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are dominating pandemic-related headlines as Christmas Day looms on the horizon.
Caldwell County’s top officials said the variant of COVID-19 that reportedly makes up the largest percentage of new cases has yet to crack its borders and described the number of new weekly cases in the county as “very low” on calls returned to the Lockhart Post-Register on Tuesday.
“The week before last, we had 26 confirmed cases for that period that week,” said Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden. “We’ve been running from 1 to 25 cases weekly through the whole downturn. When it starts shooting up, it goes rapidly and turns into 100 or more a week.
“We’re keeping an eye on it. Right now, we haven’t sent any requests to the Texas Department of Emergency Management for vaccination sites because the vaccines are readily available and are free to the public (at many locations). We haven’t set up free testing sites because there hasn’t been a big surge. If we start to see a big surge, TDEM will make the (military-run sites) available again.”
Haden said there had been one new COVID-19 case in a Caldwell County nursing home, but had not been informed whether it was a variant case.
The reportedly low case numbers are reflected by an apparent lack of urgency on the Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management’s COVID-19 page, which as of Tuesday had last been updated in July.
“We haven’t pushed out a lot of information because there have been no questions,” said Hector Rangel, Caldwell County emergency management chief, who said his office fielded a number of calls and e-mails after cases spiked following Memorial Day and Independence Day. “People aren’t calling … not even after Thanksgiving. Cases are down here in Caldwell County and I think it’s due to (vaccinations).”
The vaccination rate in Caldwell County is higher than in many rural counties but trails the state average of 60.52 percent. In Caldwell County, 54.25 percent of citizens age 5 and over had been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday night.
According to the CDC, 61.6 percent of the United States population has been fully vaccinated. Approximately 62.2 million people in the U.S. have received a booster. Of fully vaccinated adults age 18 and up, 33 percent have received a booster.
The state’s website does not have information available about percentage of citizens who have received a booster, which has been widely reported as the key to minimizing risk of serious COVID-related illness.
There have been 7,393 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Caldwell County since March 2020. During that time, 156 have died from COVID-related illness.
The Omicron variant is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, accounting for more than 73 percent of new COVID-19 cases last week, according to data released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to World Health Organization data, the Omicron variant has been confirmed in 106 countries.
The United States reported its first Omicron-related death this week. The deceased was a Texan in his 50s who lived in Harris County.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday called a press conference where he delivered a speech on Omicron and fielded questions from members of the media.
Biden assured Americans that the state of the pandemic was “absolutely not” regressing to the situation in March 2020.
“Another question folks are asking, is are we going back to March 2020?” Biden said during remarks in the White House. “The answer is absolutely no. No.”
More than 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated compared to March 2020, when no Americans were vaccinated, Biden noted.
Biden said that there are enough gowns, masks, ventilators and other supplies. Biden also said protocols in schools had evolved, which will help keep them open.
“Know this is not March of 2020,” he added. “We’re prepared. We know more. We just have to stay focused.”
Biden said fully vaccinated people who followed precautions could safely celebrate the holidays with friends and family — especially if they had received a booster.
“If you are vaccinated and follow the precautions that we know well, you should feel comfortable celebrating the Christmas holiday as you planned it. You know you’ve done the right thing. Enjoy the holiday season,” Biden said. “The answer is simple: Get your booster shot. Wear a mask. Our doctors made it clear, booster shots provide the strongest protection. Unfortunately we still have tens of millions of people who are eligible for the booster shot who have not yet gotten it.”
Biden also announced an expansion of at-home rapid tests to combat the surge of new cases.
The President said the federal government will purchase 500 million at-home rapid Covid-19 tests and plans to distribute them free to Americans who request them through a website.
The new tests will be made available next month and will reach Americans through the mail, he said.
Biden said starting next month, private insurance will cover at-home testing so that you can get reimbursed for those orders. There are additional plans to provide tests to those who don’t have insurance.