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Metro Atlanta Doctors Respond To COVID Surge, Omicron Variant Concerns

ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) -- COVID-19 cases have been skyrocketing in Georgia again since mid-December, driving an increasing number of patients to local urgent cares and emergency rooms. CW69's Valencia Jones spoke with Metro Atlanta doctors about the potential concerns, as new variants continue to emerge.

Piedmont Urgent Care Regional Medical Director Dr. Cassandra Donnelly spoke with CW69 in 2020 when the pandemic started. Nearly two years later, patients are once again filling up waiting rooms.

"We're seeing about a 50% increase in patient visits since the holidays," Donnelly said. She said it stems from holiday gatherings and travel, the normal flu season, and a major spike in COVID cases. "We know that, in the U.S., that Omicron is the primary variant right now."

Piedmont Healthcare COVID Task Force Director Dr. Jayne Morgan compared the rapid spread of Omicron to the previous variant.

"It basically outcompeted Delta," Morgan said. "We are seeing really almost a vertical line in the State of Georgia."

On January 5 alone, the number of confirmed COVID cases in Georgia increased by more than 18,000, bringing the total to more than 1.5 million cases since the pandemic started.

"We've seen the unvaccinated continue to drive surge after surge," said Morgan. "We can absolutely be certain that another variant is on the way."

The IHU variant, named after the Méditerranée Infection University Hospital Institute in Marseilles, France, is already taking shape. While the World Health Organization says it doesn't pose a major threat, Morgan disagrees.

"I reject that narrative that this is less severe. This is another variant of another form," she said. She recommends getting vaccinated and getting booster shots to decrease the chances of hospitalization or death.

Doctors also want to keep patients from overcrowding emergency rooms for COVID testing and minor symptoms, and instead, make urgent care centers their first stop.

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