Omicron COVID variant straining NJ’s testing resources, peak could be weeks away

In anticipation of an increase in cases of COVID-19 at family gatherings during the holiday season, Karen Barlow thought it would be a good idea to get a few home test kits.

At the time, the woman from Ocean City had no idea she was sitting on what was to become a gold mine.

“I bought a few more because I saw that they were becoming less and less available,” Barlow said of the increasingly rare tests. “Because we were going to try to get the whole family tested before Christmas.”

COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically in recent weeks due to the highly contagious variant of Omicron. And in response, the public has grown more eager than ever to get tested.

Karen Barlow at her home in Ocean City, NJ.

A consequence of this rush, however, is that it made scheduling a test seemingly impossible.

Pharmacies and dedicated testing facilities are often booked more than a week in advance, and home testing kits have disappeared from store shelves.

Some may be tempted to believe that the increase in the number of cases is mainly due to this sudden rush to test, but Jefferson Health New Jersey president Brian Sweeney has warned that Omicron is nothing to worry about. slight.

“I don’t think Target and Walmart would have been sold out if there really hadn’t been people involved or showing signs or symptoms,” Sweeney said.

“As a healthcare organization, we train everyone and we have all the appropriate (personal protective equipment),” he observed.

“But even for us as an employer, it hit us hard. We didn’t have this problem just over a month ago. We weren’t as understaffed as we are today. so definitely something going on. “

Sweeney noted that the positivity rate for COVID testing in Camden County was 5% as of Thanksgiving. By January 5, it had climbed to 32%.

Coincidentally, it was around Thanksgiving time that Barlow started shopping for home testing kits.

“Walgreens had them more or less readily available,” she said. “We just bought 10 and I shared a couple with a friend who really needed them, and we still have a couple.”

Barlow has since returned to the stores for testing, but they are all sold out. She didn’t try to make an appointment for a PCR test, but did hear stories of friends having to walk a distance for them.

“The practical part is that there aren’t any test kits available everywhere,” Sweeney said.

“In an ideal world, if the tests were readily available everywhere, of course it’s great to take a test because it reassures people that they are positive or not,” he said. “And it also allows them to stay away from others.”

In fact, the demand is so great and testing is so hard to come by that people with mild symptoms are now encouraged to assume they have COVID and self-isolate as recommended.

The positives to take from this wave are that Omicron is less severe than previous variants, and it also winds its way through the body faster, meaning people are contagious for a shorter period of time than it does. ‘with the Delta variant. This prompted the CDC to revise its guidelines by shortening the recommended isolation period to five days.

According to data monitored by Sweeney and other health officials, the peak of this wave could still be in a few weeks.

While the state’s vaccination rate is currently 73 percent, the rate of those who have received a booster lags behind at 36 percent. Jefferson’s executive believes getting more people to receive that third dose will help weather the storm.

“I mean, this documentation, this data has been proven to work for sure,” he said of immunization protection against severe COVID disease.

“It might not prevent you from getting sick, but it will prevent you from being in intensive care or being on a ventilator, which is obviously not ideal from a results standpoint.”

Ahmad Austin Jr. is a longtime South Jersey resident telling stories within the health and cannabis industries for Burlington County Times, Courier-Post and The Daily Journal. For history advice, contact [email protected]

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This article originally appeared on Burlington County Times: Omicron COVID peak could still be weeks away as Camden cases increase

Carol N. Valencia