County’s COVID cases may have peaked
Editor’s Note – Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner posted a COVID-19 update on the health department’s Facebook page on Thursday. The message appears below in full:
The number of cases is currently very high, which is expected as the Omicron variant moves through the state. Our 7-day case count per 100,000 population is 919.81, which means that every day 68 new cases are reported. That’s more than double what we saw 30 days ago. With the limited testing resources available, the actual numbers are certainly higher than what we can see through our monitoring systems.
Local hospitalizations are as high as they have been since the start of the pandemic. Today, Highland District Hospital announced it was postponing elective surgeries and endoscopy procedures in order to move staff and increase bed capacity. High patient numbers and high levels of staff illness continue to strain our local healthcare resources.
Please do not go to the hospital to get tested for COVID-19.
In the United States, we have seen an increase of more than 200% in the number of cases in the last two weeks. Most models predict a peak in cases between mid and late January, but local factors can play an important role in this. Highland County has just come out of a large Delta variant surge, leaving many in the community with some natural immunity, which may cause Omicron’s surge to drop overall. We may have already hit that peak in Highland County, as our cases have stabilized in the 900-950 per capita range for a few days now.
As Omicron outperforms Delta, we hope to see our hospitalization rates improve. In South Africa, the furthest country on their Omicron trip, their hospitalizations were about 50% of what was seen in Delta. That said, we also have to recognize that the population in our county in the Highlands tends to be less healthy and much older on average than South Africa, so we may not see as big of a reduction. . On the other hand, Highland County has higher vaccination rates than South Africa, which should provide some protection against serious illnesses.
Our primary local concern continues to be the capacity of our medical system. Highland County hospitals are full, as full as they have been throughout this pandemic. Even with a 50% reduction in planned hospitalizations, if we continue to see a prolonged increase in case rates, we are going to continue to put additional strain on our healthcare system. We are seeing the same problem in the number of state and regional hospitals, which are the highest we have ever seen for COVID-19.
Death rates in South Africa are 25% of what was seen with Delta, so hopefully we’ll see that decrease in death rates here as well. I also don’t think we’ve seen the last of our Delta variant deaths yet, as we’re still working on Delta-related hospitalizations.
If it looks like I’m riding the fence here, that’s because I am. There’s reason to be optimistic that Omicron is overall less severe of a COVID strain, but the local healthcare system is in very tough shape and probably hasn’t seen the worst of it yet. I think we have to get through these new weeks of our aftermath of Delta and the Omicron push before things start to look up.
Antigen Rapid Test Kit Update
A few weeks ago, the health department shared updates on a change in the number of our rapid test kits we would be able to provide to the community through our partnership with our local libraries and CommunityAction. The Ohio Department of Health continues to ration our test kit orders, and they are facing significant order delays from their manufacturers. The health department will be holding back our small remaining stock of tests to support our community partner organizations. We may receive additional test kits in the future, but at this time we have no good estimate of when.
Earlier today, the Supreme Court blocked the vaccine/test warrant from President Biden’s major employer. In terms of test availability, this will help reduce the demand for rapid tests.
President Biden has announced several initiatives to improve access to testing, and I don’t yet know what impact these will have on the availability of antigen test kits. The likelihood that a federal program could be developed and implemented in time to be helpful in the Omicron surge is unlikely.
And finally, Omicron is producing many cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated people, even in people who have recently received a booster shot. The question I often hear: Why bother with vaccinations if I can still get sick? Here’s why it’s always a good idea to get vaccinated:
* Vaccination (especially booster doses) reduces the risk of getting sick.
* Vaccination reduces the likelihood of hospitalization.
* Vaccination reduces the risk of death.
* Vaccination reduces the length of a person’s infectious period (it ends up transmitting the disease to fewer people).
It’s a bit like being in a boxing match. I know I’m going to get hit, so if I have a chance to put some extra padding in the gloves, I want to do it. The COVID punch is still coming, but it’ll hurt a little less if I get vaccinated. It’s not a perfect analogy, but dinner is on the table and that’s all I have for tonight.
If you know someone who works in healthcare, please send them encouragement this week.
This graphic from the Highland County Health Department provides updated COVID-19 information for Highland County.