‘This is unprecedented’: Omicron causes 80% of coronavirus cases in Miami-Dade in 2 weeks

As COVID-19 cases increase again, experts report the new omicron variant made up for more than 80% of coronavirus cases detected in Miami-Dade County.

MIAMI – The coronavirus’ omicron variant is rapidly replacing the delta variant, so public health officials at the federal and local levels are urging people to readopt preventive measures and get the booster shot.

Dr. David Andrews, a University of Miami Health pathologist, reported omicron infected over 80% of the patients who recently tested positive for the coronavirus in Miami-Dade County. There was also evidence of omicron confirmed through wastewater epidemiology research.

“This is unprecedented ... we saw our first case of omicron on a sample obtained on Dec. 2.,” Andrews said about how fast the new variant is spreading.

The Jackson Health System announced on Thursday night that visitation guidelines were revised due to omicron’s increased presence. Entry will be limited to visitors who have an appointment, a medical emergency, or authorization to visit a patient.

“Despite all of our efforts, the pandemic is not over,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference on Thursday.

Levine Cava reinstated the regular reports on hospital capacity and COVID-19 patients and issued emergency orders to increase residents’ access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“That’s so we can monitor the caseloads in the hospital,” Levine Cava said. “We cannot allow our hospitals to be overwhelmed.”

Officials in Miami-Dade County are responding to the rise in cases fueled mainly by the rapid emergence of the coronavirus' omicron variant.

The Florida Department of Health reported 6,846 new cases on Wednesday, according to CDC data published on Thursday. Records show that was the highest single-day increase in Florida since Sept. 24.

“It’s as critical as ever that we all follow the key steps that we know will prevent the spread of the disease,” Levine Cava said.

Dr. Lilian Abbo, an infectious disease specialist with the Jackson Health System, said the booster shot is important now because the COVID-19 vaccines were 20% less effective against delta and about 30% less effective against omicron.

“None of the vaccines are going to prevent 100% infections, so even if you are booster and vaccinated you may still get infected, but the idea is to prevent serious infections and death and cut the chain of transmission,” Abbo said.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said Americans should be given the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead of the Johnson & Johnson shot.

Dr. Peter Paige, Miami-Dade County’s first chief medical officer, said it’s important to promote the two-shot vaccines and the booster to decrease the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

“We continue to encourage mask-wearing, especially in high-risk situations: Indoor crowded venues [with] poor ventilation,” Paige said. “Try to get outdoors. If you’re going to gather with people, try to decrease risk by getting out of indoor spaces.”

Levine Cava said Miami-Dade boasts the highest vaccination rate in the state and is well above the national average. She urged residents to use face masks, tests, vaccines, booster shots, keep hands clean, and social distance.

Access to vaccines

Miami-Dade is also providing vaccinations at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Levine Cava said trucks with vaccines will travel to underserved communities this week.

Starting this week, Miami-Dade will be offering vaccinations to homebound residents aged 12 or older. For more information about getting the vaccine at home or to schedule an appointment, call 1-888-201-5490 or email vaccinations@ilshealth.com.

More on the coronavirus pandemic

Dr. Cameron Webb, a member of the White House COVID-19 response team, said South Floridians need to get the booster shot as omicron remains a "variant of concern."

About the Authors:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.