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Answering your omicron questions, and what you should read this year

a stack of books
Lydia Thompson/NPR

We speak to Professor of Epidemiology Jason Salemi about what Florida's new case numbers really mean for our lives now. Plus we laugh with book experts Connie Ogle and Mitchell Kaplan and ask about what they're looking forward to reading this year.

On this Tuesday, Jan. 4, edition of Sundial:

Your Omicron Questions, Answered

The highly contagious omicron variant is spreading through the Sunshine State fast, especially after the holidays.

It feels like so many more people are testing positive than before.

And it can be hard to keep up with useful information about the virus and the facts as day-to-day numbers change so rapidly.

We spoke with Jason Salemi. He is a professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health in Tampa.

As the pandemic continues, you can rely on WLRN to keep you current on local news and information. Your support is what keeps WLRN strong. Please become a member today. Donate now. Thank you.

"Biologically speaking, it seems as though [omicron] is less likely to infiltrate as intensely the lower part of your respiratory tract, where your lungs are and where it tends to do the most damage. It's much better at infiltrating your nose, which is why it's so much more likely to be spread," Salemi said. "But because it doesn't get as deep into your respiratory system relative to something like delta, it just seems to be causing less severe illness. And some of the most recent data out of the UK corroborates that."

Salemi pointed to the most recent numbers and explained why the number of new cases and the number of hospitalizations aren't as linked anymore.

"Coming into this surge, we've got a much improved ability to fight against severe illness with omicron because a lot more people have been vaccinated and or boosted and people have built up immunity from prior infections, mainly during that delta surge," he said. "And so when you get all of this together, that's why we're finding this decoupling of cases and hospitalizations that the dramatic rise in cases is no longer predictive of the same sort of rise in hospitalizations. So it's still very serious. It's still hospitalizing a lot of people because it's so transmissible and it's still finding vulnerable people. But for an individual on average, it's less likely to cause severe illness."

Where we are with Omicron in Florida

Following Health News in 2022

2021 with COVID was another busy year to try to keep ourselves healthy and keep up with all of the different healthcare news across South Florida.

Hospital policies, where to go for testing, don't neglect your annual visits... The list goes on.

We caught up with WLRN health care reporter Verónica Zaragovia about what stories she is looking in to as 2022 begins, where you can find a COVID test in South Florida, and how she's doing after recovering from COVID herself.

"I had like that ticklish throat and it evolved into a minor cold. But it was in fact, COVID-19," Zaragovia said.

With her mild case, "that's why that booster shot was so important," she said.

You can keep up with Verónica's reporting as 2022 gets underway, here.

Where to find a COVID test

What To Read This Year

Over the last couple of years, one thing the pandemic did was force us to stay inside. And during that time people read more books.

Book sales were up in 2020 to some of the best figures in years.

"The most remarkable thing for me was in the middle of this crazy pandemic, in the middle of this upheaval over the last year to see people coming into the store [with] masks, of course, and to see a lot of young people. There were so many young people, more than I could ever remember, who have kind of rediscovered the analog world of books," Mitchell Kaplan, the founder and owner of Books & Books.

Connie Ogle, former book editor at the Miami Herald, joined Kaplan and recommended some of her favorites, as well as shared her reading habits over the past year.

"The one I'm going to get my hands on is 'The Candy House,' by Jennifer Egan. She wrote a book called 'A Visit from the Goon Squad,' ... and this is something of a sequel," Ogle said. "She's fantastic. That's the one I'm really excited about... I read 121 books, that also includes audio books, so I'm including everything."

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Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, currently leads the WLRN Newsroom as Interim Managing Editor. Prior to transitioning to leadership from production, Caitie reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.