Q&A: AdventHealth official answers your COVID-19 questions

Chief medical officer at AdventHealth Orlando discusses omicron variant

ORLANDO, Fla. – Omicron: A COVID-19 variant that’s been on the minds of Americans across the country as cases surge in the U.S.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it the dominant strain in the U.S.

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In Central Florida, no omicron cases have been confirmed yet, but recent wastewater samples collected from Altamonte Springs and Orange County detected the variant’s presence.

AdventHealth CentraCare clinics, despite a low number of hospitalizations, also saw positive COVID-19 cases triple, from 5.5% to 21%, a sign local health officials said indicates the presence of omicron in the community.

And while there’s a lot we know about omicron, there’s still a lot we don’t know.

At a news briefing Tuesday, Dr. Victor Herrera, chief medical officer at AdventHealth Orlando, set out to answer some of the public’s lingering questions about the latest variant in a Q&A session with Tom Johnson, a public affairs official on their media team.

Find his answers below.

The COVID-19 positivity rate tripled in the last few weeks from 5.5% to 21%. What should our community take from that?

Herrera: “We have seen a rapid increase. We haven’t seen the number increase in the matter that it has in the last few weeks... We learned in the last two surges that number has predictive value in terms of what we are going to see in terms of patients being hospitalized... typically when that positivity rate increases it correlates to a two-week lag of starting to see an increase of hospitalizations.”

How is the hospital preparing for another potential surge and how can the community do its part to help?

Herrera: “Leaders from different areas get together, we evaluate the current situation, we think about possible scenarios in the next few weeks and we make sure we are ready. We ask the question, ‘Is there something that we can be doing differently in case we end up in a situation where we have an increase in hospitalizations that overwhelm the system?’ ... We cannot predict the future, but we go through the exercise of what our possible scenarios are ... we want to make sure we are ready.”

How does AdventHealth sequence COVID-19 samples for new variants? Have we found the omicron variant among AdventHealth patients?

Herrera: “We think it’s a matter of time.”

What are the best steps people can take to avoid an infection, and just as importantly, avoid spreading to others?

Herrera: “The cases have been mild and I want everyone to think, even if that’s the case, if you infect a lot of people, then you may get to those that are vulnerable and (have a) high risk of being hospitalized. And we end up with the same number of patients hospitalized as we did with other surges.”

We look back, our colleagues reviewed records, sampling who tested positive last week and only about 4% of those were vaccinated and had a third dose or a booster. Does that help underscore the importance of a third dose?

Herrera: “This may be a surge of the unvaccinated and the unboosted. This is a good opportunity to inform the community. One thing I want people to get out of this today — the most important message — is this is the time to get your booster if you don’t have it. That’s a call to action that’s something that can really bend the curve we can see here in the community.”

Has AdventHealth seen a confirmed case and can we assume the current spike is because of the omicron variant?

Herrera: “The way that we are seeing the positivity rate change, the way we are seeing it spread in the community, tells us this is omicron... As I have said earlier, the way we sequenced hospitalized patients, we haven’t had one in the hospital yet, but we have had a lot of the people going to the urgent care centers. We are convinced it’s really omicron what we are seeing.”

You mentioned there is some evidence omicron cases are milder. If that’s the case, why is it important to keep the virus from spreading? Is it possible to get severely sick and die?

Herrera: “You can still get very sick from it. People can die from it. We are starting to get confirmed deaths of patients.”

This time of year, there can be multiple culprits behind a cough, fever, the flu is also out there. So, when should someone get tested for COVID? Should everyone with any symptom be tested?

Herrera: “Anyone experiencing cold-like symptoms right now, with what is happening in our community, should discuss getting tested. There is a high probability of getting infected with the omicron variant.”

Christmas Eve is a few days away. One week later, New Year’s Eve. What’s the message right now about travel? Should we travel? What about parties?

Herrera: “We know there are things that work, so use your judgment if there is someone that has symptoms or someone that is sick. There are settings where masks are useful. When you’re in an environment where you can get exposed — outdoor activities instead of indoor activities are preferable — I think we know what are the things that work... I would say, enjoy your holidays, be with family, do it in a safe way and a reminder that vaccines and boosters really demonstrated they decrease the transmission.”

A lot of people held out on getting boosters, thinking they might not need it yet. What is the message to that segment of the population?

Herrera: “Boosters are part of getting vaccinated. I think that initially, we believed that it was sort of a bonus. It was like we already have a vaccine, but if you want extra protection get your booster. We are convinced now it’s really part of your vaccination and I suspect the definition of fully vaccinated may change to you need a booster to be considered fully vaccinated. Go get your booster if you already made the decision to go get the vaccine by getting the first one and second one. It’s an easy step to get your third extra dose.”

About the Author:

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.