(When this interview was recorded there were 17 deaths related to COVID-19 in the past 7 days. As of Friday, December 17, 3:02 p.m. that number has risen to 19.)

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — As hospitals still battle the COVID-19 Delta variant, another variant is close to health official’s minds—Omicron.  

CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards says that those hospitalized at CoxHealth are infected with the Delta variant.  

What’s more concerning is that in the last seven days a total of 17 people has died from the variant.  

“We currently have 70 COVID-19 patients in the hospital as we speak,” said Edwards. “That number has been relatively steady this week. Unfortunately, we have lost 17 more lives due to COVID-19 in the last week.”  

Mercy also tweeted about its COVID-19 hospitalization, which like Cox Health, is entirely Delta variant related.  

Edwards worries about normalizing COVID-19 and says a wave of Omicron is not a question of if but when.  

“We are on the heels of an Omicron wave that will probably be more monstrous but less severe,” said Edwards.  

There is positive news about the new variant. Though studies show it is more contagious, the new variant is less severe than the Delta variant.  

Edwards also says to get a better idea of what to expect with the surge, they have been studying a country he believes is most like the United States demographically.  

“We are studying the United Kingdom because they are most like us demographically,” said Edwards. “What worries me is that there are hospitals in London that have 10% of their staff out due to infections. The infections may be less severe and may just be quarantined. And they are not at their peak. So, if hospitals in our country lose 10% to 20% of their staff while our number go up that could be dire.”  

However, the Omicron variant being so transmissible could turn out to be a good thing.  

“Ultimately, it is so transmissible that many people who are currently not protected will get it and the symptoms will be less severe,” said Edwards. “It will also give a level of protection. [This variant] could honestly be a way out of this pandemic.”  

Edward says it’s clear that humans could acquire immunity through infection and vaccination. He believes as the new variant sweeps through the country the United States will achieve some level of immune protection.  

Until then, Edwards, as well as the Springfield-Greene County Health Department are encouraging residents to get vaccinated, receive a booster, or get tested before taking a trip or hosting a party. 
OzarksFirst caught up with Terri Gabby Friday afternoon as she and her husband received their booster shots ahead of traveling to see family next week. 

“We’re getting our booster for the holidays, hopefully it will prevent the spread of anything between family members. We do have some gatherings to go to and we have people of all ages, all health concerns, so we just want to make sure that we do our part,” says Gabby.

If you’re interested in taking advantage of free testing before Christmas and New Year’s, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department will be holding a testing event next Wednesday and Thursday from 7 a.m. until 12 p.m.

The clinic is located in the old Toys R Us and Gordman’s building at 1425 E. Battlefield Road in Springfield. 

Appointments are required and can be scheduled by calling the COVID-19 call center at 417-874-1211. The PCR tests are administered via throat swab and results should be available the same day as testing.