GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Just last week, Hudson Headwaters Health Network signed its collective name alongside two others – Glens Falls Hospital and Irongate Family Practice – on a plea. That plea was for those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get the shot, to protect their families and communities, and also to keep a growing problem from worsening.

That was last Tuesday. Since then, things have gotten more complicated.

“The honest answer is no one knows what this means, but we are paying very close attention,” said Dr. William Borgos, Chief Medical Officer at Hudson Headwaters. “I think we have to presume, if it’s not here, it will be here very soon.”

Borgos was speaking on Tuesday morning about the coronavirus omicron variant, which was discovered and reported in South Africa on Nov. 24; a single day after the North Country medical providers spoke up. It’s since been reported as showing up in Europe prior to that.

In the days since then, Borgos said, the reality is that medical practices still don’t know a lot. In the meantime, they’re following every bit of CDC guidance that comes along.

Borgos said that the main questions he wants to see answered have to do with how bad the omicron variant can be compared to the strains that have walked through HHHN doors, as many as 80 per day. Is it more contagious? Does it last longer? Will the vaccine still be effective?

“And so, like everybody else, we’re going to watch very closely,” he said. “Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best. I’m hoping that in 2 or 3 weeks we’re saying false alarm, but we just don’t know.”

Meanwhile, that 80-per-day rate of positive COVID cases looms large across HHHN’s urgent and primary care locations. The urgent care sites feel most of that pressure – places like Health Center on Broad Street in Glens Falls, or Warrensburg Health Center. But the pediatric care centers in the network see their share of cases, too, when kids are sent out of school because they display symptoms. A lot of those kids come to Hudson Headwaters.

Now, this week, some new support is headed HHHN’s way – and Glens Falls Hospital’s, and Irongate’s. And it comes in the former Sears at the Aviation Mall. The state-run coronavirus vaccination site that ran there from April to July is reopening, and will begin seeing patients again starting Wednesday.

“We’re hoping that particularly because they’re going to be offering a lot of vaccination slots for all ages – and since they’re going to be offering a good deal of testing for people who have been exposed or are asymptomatic – we are hoping that it’s going to take some of the strain off of our sites,” Borgos said. “We’re still trying to get the message out that if you’re sick, we should see you, or they should see their provider, but that state site’s a really good option if you’re exposed but feel fine, or if you’re just worried that you may have it and want to check before travel.”

In addition to coronavirus tests, Hudson Headwaters has offered some vaccines, specifically for kids. For adults, they have tended to recommend going elsewhere. As booster doses become available, patients are typically advised to seek out help from their local pharmacy.

The limited vaccine output at Hudson Headwaters sites comes down to staffing. As the cold season sets in and coronavirus numbers climb higher and higher, the demand only grows for more hands-on deck.

The good news is, although doctors have still fielded many questions from concerned parents, the demand to get 5-to-11-aged children vaccinated has been high. That’s where Borgos said a lot of focus lies, while he and the staff at HHHN’s sites wait for more word on how prepared they need to be for things to take a turn from the worse if – and when – omicron comes to the North Country.

“I’m really glad that the virologist in South Africa identified this, and put people on alert,” Borgos said. “And now we just have to wait and see.”

Vaccine, booster shot and testing appointments at the Aviation Mall vaccine site can be made online. The site opens at 8 a.m. Wednesday.