POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – In Polk County, the transmission level is “high,” the hospitalizations are increasing “rapidly,” and thousands of people are testing positive every week.

At the center of it all is the omicron variant of COVID-19.

The state reported 7,524 new COVID-19 infections in Polk County in the week ending Dec. 30. The percent positivity rate is 26.1%.

“Omicron is just so prevalent right now and so contagious, so many people are being affected by it,” said Dr. Hal Escowitz, chief medical informatics officer and chief quality officer at Lakeland Regional Health.

According to Dr. Escowitz, 144 patients had COVID-19 at Lakeland Regional Health on Monday.

“The rise has occurred rapidly. Just a few weeks ago, we were in the 20-30 patient range in-house and we were seeing 20, 25 people a day in the emergency department,” said Dr. Escowitz.

At BayCare Health System’s three Polk County hospitals, Winter Haven Hospital, Winter Haven Women’s Hospital and Bartow Regional Medical Center, 45 patients had COVID-19, according to a spokesperson.

On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Jackson Health System, a Miami-based hospital system, reported half its COVID-19 patients were at the hospital for non-COVID-related reasons.

“When you have a variant like omicron, which is much more widespread, you are going to have people who get into a car accident and go into an emergency room, they’re swabbing everybody and you’re gonna have people that have incidental positives,” said Gov. DeSantis.

Dr. Escowitz said about a third of the COVID-19 patients currently fall under that category.

“I think just by sheer numbers and the speed by which this is spreading, we’re just getting so many patients in-house that are testing positive,” Dr. Escowitz said.

Hundreds of cars were lined up at Nomi Health’s testing site at RP Funding Center in Lakeland to get tested on Monday.

Tests are also being offered through Nomi Health at Gil Jones Center in Winter Haven and Bartow Regional Medical from 8 am – 6 pm 7 days a week.

Registration is available online and onsite.

People can also get tested through the Fla. Dept. of Health in Polk County at the Lake Ariana Clubhouse in Auburndale from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Thursday, 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. on Friday.

Appointments are recommended but not required.

Rocky McKee got tested at the Auburndale site Monday.

He had COVID-19 during Christmas week and needs a negative test to return to work. He said his symptoms were mild and he thinks the vaccine played a role.

He’s in disbelief the pandemic is still here, two years later.

“I really can’t believe it lasted this long and it keeps changing up on us and I think this one for some reason was easier to catch,” said McKee.

Institutions are having to alter their plans too.

At Polk State College, the administration modified its Phase III reopening plan to allow professors to opt for a hybrid teaching model, part in-person, part online.

Students are returning to campus beginning Monday. Classes start on Wednesday.

“We are asking them to come back this week to the campuses and to the centers so they can receive the most up to date information about whether or not their face to face class will transition to a hybrid format,” said Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti, president, Polk State College.