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Nacogdoches County reached a record level of active COVID-19 cases Tuesday evening as the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads like wildfire.

Texas Department of State Health Services reported 798 active cases going into Wednesday morning, up 355 from a week ago. That number takes into account lab confirmed tests and antigens tests. It does not include home tests, so the true toll of the virus is unknown.

Active COVID-19 cases — those where the patient is still considered contagious — last peaked at 778 on Sept. 16 as the delta variant of the virus ran roughshod over the community. Intensive care units around the region were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

But the new highly contagious omicron variant has sent far fewer people to the hospital.

“[O]ur hospitalizations are still better than they were,” in September, said Nacogdoches Fire Chief Keith Kiplinger. “They’re not anywhere near where they were and that’s a good thing.”

On Wednesday, 23 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Nacogdoches County, 5 of them in intensive care.

“I don’t think we’re going to see the numbers quit going up until around the 20th. I think around the end of next week it might start slowing down but I might be wrong,” Kiplinger said.

The omicron variant of the virus appears to be the most contagious yet and is often sickening people who have been vaccinated.

Etoile ISD planned to close school at 1 p.m. Wednesday and not return until Jan. 18 because of a “high percentage of staff members” showing symptoms of the virus. Nacogdoches ISD was reporting Wednesday morning that 58 staff members and 118 students have COVID-19.

Chireno ISD also canceled classes and activities Wednesday unrelated to the pandemic.

“This is due to a water outage that occurred overnight,” district officials said in an announcement.

Reports from the World Health Organization indicate the omicron variant reduces most vaccine effectiveness to 30% while other vaccines are totally ineffective.

The organization reports that boosters can raise effectiveness up to 75%.

Symptoms of omicron seem to be milder than previous variants. In the United Kingdom and South Africa, where the variant spread before taking hold in the United States, studies found between 30 and 70% fewer people required hospitalization.

Vaccines and boosters are widely available throughout Nacogdoches.

The city hosts vaccine clinics on Fridays at the CL Simon Recreation Center, 1112 North St. Anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19 or recovered from the disease should wait at least 14 days before receiving a booster or vaccine.

The period extends to 90 days for people who have received monoclonal antibody treatment.

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