Health officials: Omicron is here, vaccine provides best protection

An unwelcomed guest arrived in St. Mary’s County just in time for the holidays: the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The St. Mary’s County Health Department announced the first confirmed case on Dec. 20 and is urging residents to redouble their precautions, in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their No. 1 tip: get vaccinated, get boosted.

While early data suggests that Omicron is more transmissible than previous variants of COVID-19, it may result in milder symptoms, especially for those who are fully vaccinated and boosted, according to the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Doing so is especially important for members of the Department of Defense so they remain mission-ready to defend the nation, according to DoD leaders.

“Vaccines remains our biologic body armor against this contagion and for limiting its variants,” said Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, U.S. Navy Surgeon General, in a recent video message. “Although not a military requirement at this time, I encourage everyone who is eligible to receive the booster vaccine. This includes your families and our civilian colleagues. Boosters increase the strength of your antibody response. So when the virus mutates, a boost makes it more likely that your antibodies can protect you against the new variant.”

The booster has been shown to provide better protection against breakthrough infections of COVID-19 and restore waning immunity from earlier doses, according to BUMED.

Naval Health Clinic Patuxent River offers first, second and third/booster doses of the COVID vaccine produced by Pfizer and Moderna. Pediatric vaccines are also available. To make an appointment, visit https://informatics-stage.health.mil/covax/. To get vaccinated off-base, visit https://smchd.org/covid-19-vaccine/.

Those who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are eligible for a booster five months and six months after their second dose, respectively. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for a booster after two months.

The United States has surpassed 56 million cases of COVID-19 and 825,000 deaths. Locally, there were more than 16,000 cases in St. Mary’s County as of Dec. 30.

As cases have skyrocketed, so has demand for testing at NHC Pax River. Clinic staff are working tirelessly to return calls and messages in a timely fashion, but request patience as they work through the large volume of requests.

Due to limited supplies, mission-essential personnel receive priority for COVID PCR testing with same-day results at NHC Pax River. All others will be accommodated as supplies and staffing allow and can expect results within 48-72 hours.

To qualify for testing at the clinic, patients must be symptomatic or have been in close contact with a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 at least five days ago. At least five days must have passed since the contact occurred in order for testing to be accurate. Close contact is defined as being within 6-feet for at least 15 minutes without a face mask.

COVID testing at the clinic is by appointment only. To request an appointment, call 301-342-2684.

For information on testing resources available through St. Mary’s County, visit https://smchd.org/covid-19-testing/.

Health officials also recommend social distancing, continued mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing.

For up-to-date information on COVID-19, including symptoms, case counts and ways to protect yourself and your loved ones, visit cdc.gov.