BALTIMORE (WJZ) — As COVID-19 surges across the country, the Omicron variant has taken center stage.

Health experts from Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center said numbers have gone from bad to worse.

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Beth Blauer, the data lead for the group said, “We’ve had a total of 4.2 million COVID cases in the last week, that’s up 72% from the prior week. That’s almost twice what we saw this time last year.”

Many more people are taking tests after developing symptoms with the use of at-home kits and mass testing sites. Dr. Bill Moss said the best form of protection is vaccination. “I continue to be surprised, particularly by the low COVID-19 vaccine coverage in children 5-11. Only 25% of children in the US, according to the CDC, have received at least one dose and only 16% are fully vaccinated.”

The virus, Moss said, will inevitably mutate again, so scientists have other vaccines in the pipeline for approval. The goal is to get one that will protect people from multiple COVID strains.

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At Lifebridge Health, hundreds of employees are sick with COVID-19, even though they are vaccinated. Their symptoms may not be as severe as someone who is not vaccinated, but many are still missing work.

“Still there’s high volumes of people with health concerns, and they’re flooding system. And then the second part is a lot of our own employees are getting sick,” said Dr. Jonathan Thierman of Sinai Hospital.

Maryland is opening more testing locations with the help of the National Guard, and Thierman said that will be helpful.

“Hopefully with the state opening up testing sites, that will alleviate some of the concern,” he said.

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Health experts said it is too soon to tell if a booster will be needed every 6 months or so to provide protection against the virus.

Rachael Cardin