SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Omicron variant is increasing community spread “tremendously,” according to Chatham County Health Department officials.

“It’s no secret that the Omicron variant is here and it’s certainly spreading throughout our country, our state and in our county as well,” said Dr. Chris Rustin.

At Friday’s county commission meeting, Dr. Rustin said this variant differs from other diseases with its rapid increase in cases, appearing to be vertical on a graph – with numbers still climbing.

Omicron is producing nearly double the number of new weekly cases than the Delta variant, according to Rustin. The result: a high demand for tests.

The county health department resumed testing at the Civic Center site on Monday, testing more than 3,500 people the first three days this week at their two sites. Rustin said while rapid tests are becoming harder to find, PCR tests – which the department is using – are more effective.

“If you take a rapid test and you have all the symptoms of COVID and it tests negative, it’s probably a false negative,” he said. “If you can’t find a rapid test and you’re sick enough that you could stay home, I would recommend staying home and just consider the possibility that that may be what you have.”

Chatham County’s vaccination rate is on-par with the state average, with 53% of residents fully vaccinated. But the county is ahead of the state in booster shots, with 38% of residents fully vaccinated with a booster.

Rustin said ultimately, vaccines remain the best defense — even if you’ve been infected.

“This particular variant hit so fast we’re learning in real-time almost and I don’t think there’s a lot of good data out there to show how much immunity you’re given from being infected at this point,” he said. “So, it is still recommended that if you get infected and recover to get vaccinated.”

One commissioner asked a question many of us may have: when will the virus go away?

“A virus’ only goal in life is to replicate and they’re looking for a live host to do that,” he said. “And if they continue to mutate that reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine. You know, this could go on for some time but it’s just hard to predict something like that.”

The county’s two testing sites at the Civic Center and Georgia Tech Savannah Campus will be open on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s free, but you do need to register ahead of time. There will also be a mobile vaccine clinic at the fire station on Oglethorpe Ave. Walk-ins are welcome, but appointments are encouraged.