ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) — COVID-19 cases remain at record levels for Chemung County for the second day in a row. Active cases remain about 1,200 in the county. While hospitalizations have been steady at 30 to 40 per day, Health Director Pete Buzzetti says this is also concerning because it is stretching hospitals thin.

Holiday gatherings are only partially to blame. The omicron variant has proven to be more transmissible, even between vaccinated individuals; however, trends indicate that illness is not as severe with omicron as it was with other strains of the virus.

“Omicron is driving the explosion in cases,” Dr. John Moore, professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, said. “It has at least the same and possibly a greater ability to replicate in cells in the nose and the upper respiratory tract. That probably explains why it’s so transmissible.”

The virus has mutated several times and presented itself as different variants. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the new strain accounts for nearly 90 percent of all new cases, which overtook the dangerous delta variant.

Chemung County Public Health does not receive specific data on the type of COVID-19 infection seen in the county, but based on the CDC’s new findings, Buzzetti says omicron is likely to blame for the spike. Active case counts are more than three times higher in Chemung County than in Steuben and Schuyler counties combined.

Testing capacity is strained across the country, as demand for PCR tests increases. Even at-home antigen tests are selling out as soon as stores get them in.

“We know testing is an important component. Unfortunately, we seem to be back in the same area we were in during the summer of 2020 where adequate testing supplies are not available,” Pete Buzzetti, Chemung County Public Health director, added.

As more people test at home, more information is coming out about the at-home antigen tests, which might not be as accurate at detecting Omicron and may produce false negatives.

“Why there’s a higher failure rate is another of omicron Mysteries that is yet to be fully understood,” Dr. Moore continued.

While experts still do not know everything about the new variant, Dr. Moore says they will soon because the research process moves faster now than ever before due to the knowledge gained from the prior two years of the pandemic.