The peak the country is heading toward with the omicron variant is much higher than previously seen, according to Clay Horton, public health director for the Green River District Health Department.

The Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce held a webinar Thursday with Horton and Dr. Micheal Kelley, vice president for medical affairs for Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, to discuss the state of COVID-19 in the community and how local businesses should go about ensuring the safety of staff.

Following a roller coaster of spikes and dips in the spread of COVID-19 throughout the past two years and a significant surge as a result of the delta variant this past summer that overwhelmed healthcare resources, the community, Horton said, is looking to face any even more significant surge of the omicron variant, which has already surpassed estimated peaks in many areas and is still climbing.

“We can see that peak that we are heading towards in; omicron dwarfs anything that we’ve seen before, and that’s kind of where we are,” he said. “We are just seeing a tremendous amount of illness, lots of exposure in our community right now, and I think it’s going to put a strain on everyone — not only our healthcare system, but businesses (and) families.”

Kelley said at the hospital, testing rates and the number of individuals testing positive are higher than previously seen, breaking records on nearly a daily basis.

Previously, the capacity for testing at OH was about 760 tests per day, which Kelley said the healthcare system never expected to reach, and especially not surpass.

The last day I have in front of me was from the 10th and there were 794 positive tests, and that’s just our tests,” he said. “Now we have to staff up — in a critical staffing shortage — and run additional numbers of tests to be able to meet demand.”

The positivity rate, he said, is also higher than ever seen before at about 30-60%, a trend which is being seen statewide and nationally as the variant continues circulating.

Horton said those numbers are just the “tip of the iceberg.”

“We know cases are way underreported and I think with the availability of at-home tests, that’s going to be even more so,” he said. “What we’re seeing with our surveillance right now is dwarfing anything that we’ve seen before, so it does speak to how contagious this virus is and how quickly it’s spreading throughout the community.”

There are estimates, he said, that suggest real cases numbers are five to 10 times higher than reported, and potentially even higher for the omicron variant.

Horton said it is time to make important judgement calls for keeping staff safe and healthy and combatting spread of the virus.

“For the next couple of weeks, I think that I would be pulling out all of the stops in terms of putting precautions in place and trying to protect the health of my workforce,” he said.

Most importantly, he said, everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated or boosted should do so and employers should encourage staff to get vaccinated.

Additionally, he said masks should always be worn in public spaces or when around many people at once and anyone who feels sick should stay home, away from others.

Christie Netherton, cnetherton, 270-691-7360

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