MIAMI (WSVN) - South Floridians are lining up once again to get tested for COVID-19 ahead of the peak of the holiday season, as health experts express concerns about the omicron variant.
Saturday afternoon, dozens of vehicles wrapped around the testing site at Miami Dade College North Campus in Northwest Miami-Dade.
Sites like Tropical Park in Southwest Miami-Dade had people waiting to get tested all day Friday.
Friday night, 7News cameras captured a long line of cars at the park, which is currently open 24 hours a day for coronavirus testing.
“I think it’s worth it, to try to keep everybody safe,” said one woman waiting to get tested.
“Because I’m vaccinated I’m pretty relaxed,” said Kristen Gallagher while waiting to get tested. “The only reason I’m doing it now is ’cause last night I saw the line and I was terrified.”
Another woman said she is already vaccinated and recovered from a breakthrough case, but she was recently exposed to the virus, so she is getting tested.
“I’m so scared, so I decided to make an appointment to get tested, just in case,” she said.
No long lines have been reported at testing sites in Broward County, but 7News cameras captured a steady flow of drivers pulling into C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines on Friday.
The new variant has caused a new wave of COVID cases in South Florida and across the country.
“Right now, we’re seeing our cases and hospitals go up, and we’re seeing it at a very steep incline,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University.
Although delta is the dominant variant in the U.S., health experts predict omicron will surpass it.
“Rapidly, omicron is replacing delta. At this moment, over 80% of samples are testing for the omicron variant,” said Dr. David Andrews with the Jackson Health System.
“We expect it to become the dominant strain in the United States, as it has in other countries, in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC reports at least 39 states and more than 75 countries have confirmed omicron cases.
“This is the most contagious version we’ve seen yet of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said Marty.
A new University of Florida model suggests the omicron variant will bring in at least 40,000 new cases a day to Florida by February.
As people gather for the holidays, there is fear that togetherness will fuel the spread. That is what has prompted Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to make changes, like requiring hospitals to report daily COVID-19 cases once again and having officials conduct sequencing for variants.
“You need to rule out COVID. If you are experiencing symptoms, or if you’ve been exposed to someone confirmed to have COVID,” she said.
The mayor also said the county will continue to offer free testing and vaccinations, as well as taking the vaccines directly to home-bound residents and residents who live in underserved communities by using mobile vaccination trucks.
Jackson Health leaders also made revisions to their guidelines.
Starting Friday, patients are only allowed one healthy visitor per day. Visitors will also have to schedule their visits in advance.
Even though most cases of the omicron variant appear to be mild or asymptomatic, the biggest concern is passing the virus on to those who are unvaccinated, and that is why experts are urging everyone to celebrate the holidays outdoors.
“We’re so blessed in South Florida to have the type of environment where an outdoor festivity is very, very pleasant and can be done safely,” said Marty.
Health experts remind those who have not been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible, and for those who have received both doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to receive a booster shot.
Tropical Park is also a vaccination site.
For a list of COVID-19 testing sites in Miami-Dade County, click here.
For a list of COVID-19 testing sites in Broward County, click here.
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