Testing crush indicates Omicron is well-established in South Mississippi

Published: Dec. 31, 2021 at 6:44 PM CST
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - South Mississippi clinics are feeling the crunch of the omicron variant.

Patients were waiting at the door at clinics across the coast Friday morning wanting to get tested for COVID. Among those were three clinics run by Alpha Care Urgent Care.

“Every day seems to be getting a little bit worse,” said Dr. George Loukatos, owner of Alpha Care Urgent Care. “Our numbers have definitely gone through the roof. We’re at the point now where we’re having to turn people away because we’re so saturated.”

Both Memorial Hospital and Singing River Health Systems reported seeing heavy demand for covid-19 tests. Patients waiting outside a Memorial Hospital walk-in clinic in Gulfport said wait times were 2 to 3 hours Friday afternoon. Adding to the crush was many clinics closing early Friday for the New Year’s Eve holiday.

Loukatos said his clinics are seeing between 80 and 90 people per office every day. Before Omicron their normal volume would be 35 to 50. And more people are sick than in previous COVID spikes.

“Our percentage of positives is now about 50% on COVID tests, which is crazy,” Loukatos said. “Even during the spikes we approached 20%. But Omicron seems so contagious that everybody is catching it.”

And more sick people make the process at clinics slower.

“It’s a little bit different from the first wave where we had a lot of people testing, but not as many people were sick,” he said. ”Now we’re having a lot of people with flu-like symptoms and they need legitimate care, so it’s taking longer to see every patient.

And staff members are getting sick as well, making it more difficult to treat the high volume of patients.

The only good news is that those that test positive generally do not show severe symptoms, especially those who have been vaccinated.

“I think what we’re learning is that Omicron, even if you’re vaccinated, you can definitely catch it, but your symptoms are going to be much milder than if you weren’t vaccinated,” Loukatos said. “Thankfully, nobody is terribly sick. We haven’t seen too many people that are terribly sick. We’ve seen a few cases of pneumonia and people that have needed antibody infusions, but most people are having mild flu-like symptoms and thankfully it’s because more people have been immunized

“Even the booster doses are significantly reducing your chances of getting Omicron. If you haven’t had a booster, you’re at pretty high risk of getting Omicron. But if you’ve had your two series or if you’ve had your single J&J, people seem pretty well protected against getting severely ill.”

It wasn’t just the symptomatic coming in. Many people are wanting to get tested so they can attend events like football games.

“It’s been a customer service nightmare” Loukatos said. “We pride ourselves seeing people quickly and doing a good job and it’s just become near impossible to keep everybody happy because of the wait times are so long. "

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