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'The single best thing that you can do is get a booster.' Mayo Clinic expert offers advice on omicron variant.

Virus Outbreak South Africa
Jerome Delay
Puseletso Lesofi prepares to sequence COVID-19 omicron samples at the Ndlovu Research Center in Elandsdoorn, South Africa, on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. The center is part of the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, which discovered the omicron variant.

Florida's low levels of screening for the omicron variant could be dangerous for the state, a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist says.

"Florida has done probably among the least of the larger states," epidemiologist Greg Poland told reporters Wednesday. "So the implication for that is, you don't know what kind of fire is coming. You don't know what kind of fire to fight."

Two omicron cases have been confirmed in Florida so far this week, one in Tampa and one in St. Lucie County. The first case was identified Tuesday at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. According to the VA hospital, the patient has mild symptoms and had recently returned from international travel.

The Florida Department of Health has not released details about the second patient's symptoms or whether the case was related to recent travel. Spokesman Jeremy Redfin said privacy is necessary to "protect the personally identifiable health information."

Early studies show omicron may be significantly more transmissible than the delta variant but may cause less severe illness and fewer deaths. Poland, the Mayo epidemiologist, said the vast majority of COVID cases are still caused by the delta variant, but omicron is two to six times more infectious.

Additionally, research shows that the first round of COVID-19 vaccines appear to have 24 to 44 times less ability to neutralize the omicron variant, he said.

Still, Poland and other experts all recommend the vaccine and booster shot as the best defense against COVID. 

"The booster appears to get us back up to where we were," Poland said. "The next best thing to add to that — not instead of — is to wear a mask when you're indoors outside of your family."

According to the latest Department of Health data, just 60% of Duval residents have had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, compared with 76% of people nationally.