CHESHIRE — As the new COVID-19 variant, omicron, sweeps through the nation, cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.
The strain, believed to be less severe but more contagious than the delta variant that ripped through much of the country over the spring and summer of last year, has driven a positivity rate of over 20% in Connecticut over the last several weeks, and sent public health officials, including those at the Chesprocott Health District, scrambling to advise residents on how to stay safe. Chesprocott provides services to Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott.
“In December we were still seeing people come in with cases of COVID-19 with the delta variant as well as an increasing number of people who had the omicron variant,” said Kathryn Glendon, Chesprocott Public Health Specialist. “Unfortunately people let their guards down, and that leads to what we’re seeing now with how fast this virus is moving.”
The rate at which omicron has spread is shocking not only to Chesprocott Health officials, but also residents who have been trying to get their hands on at home COVID-19 test kits and N95 masks.
“While the test kits are great, they are just one tool in the toolkit,” Glendon said. “People still need to limit their social gatherings entirely. The take home test is nice to know immediately at that moment, but we advocate for residents to continue to follow all the guidelines that have been put in place.”
The take-home tests, according to Glendon and Chesprocott, are helpful for circumstances where people are about to enter a high density social gathering, and want to know if they could potentially spread the virus.
“If you test positive on a take home test, you can go ahead and assume you have COVID-19,” she said. “The symptoms are all over the place, and for a lot of people the symptoms are similar to a common cold or allergies.”
Glendon wants symptomatic residents to continue to take precautions even if the test is negative for COVID-19, because the chances are higher that the illness is COVID-19 than not.
“Just because someone tests negative, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t sick,” she said. “If you still have symptoms and test negative, we also want you to assume you are positive and isolate.”
Isolation and quarantine protocols have also been updated by the Centers for Disease Control ever since the onset of the omicron variant. Now, the CDC suggests individuals who test positive isolate for five days, instead of the previously recommended 10.
“The one caveat with that is if you are still exhibiting symptoms after the five days, please stay isolated,” Glendon said. “It's important that we stick to these guidelines. Even though they can present some initial frustration, we know what happens when people begin to get complacent.”
Glendon and Chesprocott want Cheshire residents to reconsider their approach towards masks as well, suggesting that residents opt for the paper surgical masks over cloth or homemade face coverings.
“We are asking people to relook at their masks and no longer use cloth masks or masks with a filter because of how contagious this new variant is,” she said. “People should be wearing the KN95 masks or the N95 masks, ones that fit properly over your face and have no gaps where air could get out.”
Ultimately, Glendon says that the only sure-fire way to ensure residents are protected fully from the virus is to be up-to-date on their vaccinations and boosters for the COVID-19 virus.
“We don’t consider you to be fully vaccinated against the virus without the boosters,” she said. “Make sure you get boosted in addition to the regular vaccine.”
As a reminder, residents are considered fully vaccinated receiving two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and one dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The Department of Public Health and Chesprocott also encourage, but don’t require, Cheshire residents to follow up the initial vaccinations with the additional boosters five months after.
“The majority of people who are in the hospital right now are people who have been unvaccinated,” Glendon added. “It's really important to stress vaccinations and to remain vigilant in masking and social distancing. We also have had a rise in flu cases this year, so if you are exhibiting any symptoms of being sick, just stay home.”