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In terms of putting people in hospital beds, omicron surge now tops the delta wave

And those hospitalizations are expected to increase, along with case numbers.

COVID-19 virus
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ROCHESTER — A lower percentage of people who get the omicron variant of COVID-19 end up in the hospital. But nevertheless, hospitals are being crushed by record numbers of virus-related hospitalizations, simply because total case numbers have reached such heights.

“While omicron appears to be keeping people, especially those who are vaccinated and have received an additional dose or booster, out of the hospital, we’re still seeing a push and strain on our hospital system,” Olmsted County’s lead epidemiologist Meaghan Sherden told county commissioners Tuesday, adding that people are staying in the hospital for longer periods.

She reported 40 to 45 county residents are currently in the hospital because of COVID, compared to a 2020 high of 35.

That's with a hospitalization rate that's dropped to 2% to 3% due to increased vaccinations and other factors.

“It’s equaling the same hospitalization (numbers) that we were seeing back with our delta wave, and that was at a 7% rate,” she said.

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And how's this for a thought —Sherden said about 200 county residents would be hospitalized if the county had a 7% hospitalization rate from the current number of cases.

In fact, hospital numbers are expected to increase with the growing case numbers, which came close to 3,500 new cases during the week of Jan. 5. She added that last week’s complete numbers were still being processed due to the holiday weekend.

“We’re expecting this week and moving into next week, we’ll really start to see the true impact of omicron on our hospital system,” she said.

Mayo Clinic’s COVID map reports 688 new cases were seen in the county on Sunday, and it is forecasting the daily case count could peak at 1,331 within a week.

With the high case numbers, Sherden said the county is also seeing some of the highest testing volumes of the pandemic, and tests are coming back with a near 30% positivity rate.

The test results on record likely don’t paint the complete picture, however.

“There are no at-home tests reported in our case numbers,” she said. “We know there is probably a lot more testing happening that we are not aware of, but also our case count is likely higher, just because of that case count is higher.”

Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden, who joined Tuesday’s meeting virtually while she waited for a COVID test result, said the federal program to provide up to four free at–home tests to every household could skew future numbers even more.

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Public Health Associate Director Michael Melius said that’s likely, but it’s still a good move.

“Getting more tests into the hands of people is a net gain,” he said. The at-home tests will allow people to determine whether they are at risk of exposing others to illness.

Sherden said the county will still be able to track COVID surges through hospitalizations and deaths, even if reported testing drops off.

“I think the more tests, the better we are as people know their status,” she said.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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