By MARK EVANS
As winter settles in, COVID-19 is clawing its way back into the headlines again.
National leaders’ fears that the new Omicron variant would soon slip into the United States came to fruition by the end of last week. By Monday morning there had been a number of Omicron cases in the U.S, including Missouri.
Meanwhile, COVID numbers have ticked back up a bit in Ste. Genevieve County.
As of Nov. 29, the county had nine active cases and 16 confirmed new cases. By Dec. 1, there were 25 active cases and four new confirmed cases. On Monday it was 18 active and five new confirmed cases.
Jennifer Mueller, executive director of the county health department, is not panicked.
“I think we’re doing OK,” she said last week. “I’m not surprised by a few extra cases because it’s getting colder and that’s what happens when winter hits. There are more viruses out there. I’m not a bit concerned about it.”
Many questions are being raised about the Omicron variant.
“There has been at least one positive Omicron identified in the St. Louis region,” Mueller said Monday afternoon. “I know they’re talking about adding more places to the sewershed testing they’re doing. That will be helpful.”
The sewershed testing tracks the amount of viral genetic material (viral load) in wastewater. It cannot tell the number of individuals currently infected with COVID-19. However, as data are collected and trends are identified, that information may be helpful to track the progression of the virus in communities and inform public health strategy.
The state is testing COVID-19 viral load in the wastewater of more than 50 participating community water systems across Missouri.
There is also much debate about how effective the current COVID vaccines will be against the Omicron strain.
“I’ve heard nothing yet on that end,” Mueller said. “It is still recommended, though that people be vaccinated because being vaccinated, it has been proven, helps keep people out of hospitals and helps prevent deaths. So, that is still the most recommended way to take care of yourself.”
The peak for COVID-19 cases in the county was in late November 2020, when there were 110 active cases.
There has also been some confusion about getting booster shots.
“The way the booster works is you get it six months after your second shot,” Mueller said. The county health department website said they should be taken six months or more after the “initial series.”
“’Initial series’ is meaning you have two shots,” Mueller explained.
The website also said that the boosters are available for those 65 and older, or who have health issues.
Mueller was quick to note that this has changed.
“Anybody can take it, 18 and over for Missouri,” she said. “They just changed that last week.”