PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Covid-19 positive results are rising throughout Bay County, and local health officials fear that the true number of people with the virus may be even higher.

Dr. Frank Merritt, a local physician said that the rise of take-home COVID tests has led to fewer results being reported.

“Whatever data’s out there, whatever spike, you don’t need to double it,” Merritt said. “You probably need to quadruple it or times it by eight.”

People buying tests from pharmacies do not report their results to local health officials.

“My patients are just testing at home,” Merritt said. “They go get a packet from CVS or Walgreens or Publix or whatever and they test at home. There’s nobody recording that data at all. And I think you know, do we know if more people are testing at home or less people — because we’re not getting that data we just don’t know.”

Merritt is expecting another major spike of the Omicron variant, once the holidays are over. 

“We’re seeing a huge bloom of COVID because of the holidays. You know everybody has little circles they run in,” Merritt said. “And whenever we have a holiday or family event or whatever, we mix those little circles up.”

He said the Omicron variant is less severe than other variants of COVID-19, but it is more contagious. Merritt also cautioned that the Delta variant is still persistant, and is the variant 20-25% of people are infected by. To counteract the COVID surges, Merritt hopes people take safety precautions, like wearing masks. 

“We’re pulling back to be a little more cautious for the next month or two,” Merritt said. “Hopefully this surge will go down and in that time you can then increase your interaction and so forth.”