Editor’s Note — Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner posted a COVID-19 update Thursday on the health department’s Facebook page. The post appears below in its entirety:
Case counts are very high currently, which is expected as Omicron variant moves through the state. Our 7-day per 100,000 population case count is 919.81, which means that every day we have 68 new cases being reported. This is more than twice what we were seeing 30 days ago. With the limited testing resources available, the actual numbers are certainly higher than what we are able to see through our surveillance systems.
Local hospitalizations are as high as they have been since the start of the pandemic. Today, Highland District Hospital announced that they are 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 in order to get tested for COVID-19.
Across the US we have seen more than a 200 percent increase in case counts over the past two weeks. Most models are predicting a mid to late January peak in cases, but local factors can play a big role in this. Highland County is just recently coming off of a large Delta variant surge leaving many in the community with some natural immunity, which may result in a lower Omicron surge overall. We may have reached this peak already in Highland County, as our cases have leveled out in the 900 to 950 per capita range for a few days now.
As Omicron out-competes Delta, we hope to see our hospitalization rates improve. In South Africa, the country that is the farthest down their Omicron journey, their hospitalizations were roughly 50 percent of what was seen in Delta. That said, we also need to recognize that our Highland County population tends to be less healthy and much older on average than South Africa, so we may not see as significant a reduction. On the other hand, Highland County has higher vaccination rates than South Africa, which should provide some protection against severe disease.
Our primary local concern continues to be our medical system capacity. Highland County hospitals are full, as full as they have been during this entire pandemic. Even with a 50 percent reduction in expected 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 issue across the state and regional hospital numbers, which are the highest we have ever seen for COVID-19.
Death rates in South Africa are 25 percent of what was seen with Delta, so I am hopeful that we will see this decrease in death rates here as well. I also don’t think we have seen the last of our Delta variant deaths yet as we still work through Delta-related hospitalizations.
If it sounds like I am straddling the fence here, it is because I am. There are reasons to be optimistic about Omicron overall being less serious of a COVID strain, but the local healthcare system is in very rough shape and probably hasn’t seen the worst of things yet. I think we have to get through these new few weeks of our Delta aftermath and Omicron surge before things will start improving.
Rapid Antigen Test Kit Update
A few weeks ago, the health department shared updates about a change in how many of our rapid test kits that 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 is going to be holding back our small remaining stockpile of tests in order to support our community partner organizations. We may get additional test kits delivered in the future, but right now we do not have any good estimate on when.
The Supreme Court blocked President Biden’s large employer vaccine/testing mandate earlier today. In terms of testing availability, this will help to reduce the demand for rapid testing.
President Biden has announced several initiatives for improving testing access, and I don’t know yet what impact these will have on antigen test kit availability. The likelihood that a federal program can be developed and implemented in time to be useful in the Omicron surge is unlikely.
And finally, Omicron is producing plenty of COVID-19 cases in those who are vaccinated, even in people who recently received a booster vaccine. The question I often hear: Why bother with vaccination if I can get sick anyway? Here is why it is still a good idea to get vaccinated:
* Vaccination (especially booster doses) reduces the likelihood of getting sick.
* Vaccination reduces the likelihood of hospitalization.
* Vaccination reduces the likelihood of death.
* Vaccination reduces the length of a person’s infectious period (they end up passing the disease on to fewer people).
It’s a little like being in a boxing match. I know I am going to get hit, so if I have a chance to put some extra padding in the gloves, I want to do that. The COVID punch is still coming, but it is going to hurt a little less if I am vaccinated. That isn’t a perfect analogy, but dinner is on the table and that is all I have for this evening.
If you know someone that works in healthcare, please send them some encouragement this week.