ORLANDO, Fla. — As omicron cases continue to climb across central Florida and around the country, many people are rethinking big holiday gatherings and masking up when they head into businesses and restaurants for safety.
A holiday break from school and work is bringing a steady stream of visitors into The Kitty Beautiful, a popular cat cafe in downtown Orlando.
Co-owner David Strauss said with omicron spreading quickly, they’re taking steps for safety to ensure both cats and humans are feline fine.
“I mean, the highest case numbers we’ve ever had in Florida are now so it certainly makes me want to keep the masks on and just try to keep everybody safe," said David Strauss, co-owner at The Kitty Beautiful. "I certainly don’t want anybody coming here to relax, spend time with the cats and four days later, they’re sick."
Strauss said he and his wife are constantly discussing and adjusting their safety plans in the pandemic. Masks, Strauss said, are always a requirement and customers are nearly all happy to comply though sometimes small children sometimes forget.
“And so for them sometimes, it’s a little bit of a fight to be like can you keep your mask up and please cover your nose? But it hasn’t really been a problem and a lot of our customers have told us, they appreciate the fact that we’re still trying to keep everybody safe back there,” Strauss said.
Dr. Elena Cyrus, an infectious diseases epidemiologist and assistant professor in the department of population health science with UCF College of Medicine, said omicron's daily case counts are breaking coronavirus records nationwide and it's happening very fast.
“South Africa announced omicron maybe a month ago and already, in less than a month we saw introduction into the US and in one week and two weeks, exponential growth in terms of hospitalizations,” Dr. Cyrus said.
The high case counts that took the delta variant two to three months to reach happened with omicron in just weeks. But, she said, the delta variant is far more deadly compared to omicron.
“It is less severe," Dr. Cyrus said. "So the real issue is the rate of transmission and we didn’t anticipate the scale of the transmission."
Dr. Cyrus said when exactly omicron will peak is hard to predict, depending on factors like population control, public health measures. And, she said, it could be hard to control in a state like Florida with so many tourists flying in regularly.
It's likely that omicron cases will plateau in February or March, according to Dr. Cyrus, but says case numbers will grow higher first.
“We’re really going to see the outcome of Christmas, Hanukkah, other holidays later on in the next week or two. So we’re expecting for the rest of the month of December to see really alarming trends in terms of data and statistics probably well into the first or second week of January until we see further decline,” Dr. Cyrus said.
Until then, Dr. Cyrus said control is key, including wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds.
For Strauss, he said their mask requirement and safety measures will stay in place to keep visitors and staff here as safe as they can be.
“Just try to make sure that we have the best balance between safety and practicality,” Strauss said.