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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Omicron this week became the dominant coronavirus strain in Iowa and is spreading so quickly that Iowans will continue to see dramatic spikes in the number of infections through late January or early February, Iowa health experts say.
As of the week ending Jan. 1, the omicron variant made up 77.4 percent of the COVID-19 sequenced tests in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
The week before, which ended Dec. 25, the highly transmissible variant accounted for 34.6 percent of sequenced tests.
Officials with the state’s largest hospital expect the number of cases in Iowa will peak in late January or early February, noting it’s hard to predict the impact.
“We’re hopeful we’ll see that our hospitalizations do not peak to the levels that they were before with delta, and we believe that we’ve seen that in other areas around the world. We’re watching it closely,” said Dr. Mike Brownlee, University of Iowa Health Care chief pharmacy officer
Though the COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in preventing severe disease, the rapid and wide spread of the virus could still threaten the health care system, UI Health Care officials told reporters during a media briefing Wednesday.
“The sheer numbers of people infected, even if a lower percentage need to be hospitalized, can result in increased numbers in our hospitals and decreased staff to take care of those patients, because they are out due to COVID-19,” said Dr. Daniel Diekema, UIHC infectious disease specialist.
Less than a month later, Diekema estimates -- based on sequencing data from the State Hygienic Lab and federal health data -- that omicron likely makes up between 80 to 90 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the state.
“It’s really arrived in the state of Iowa in force,” he said. “The most recent figures show that we have perhaps at least twice the rate of community cases of COVID-19 in the last couple of days than we had around Christmas.”
The variant was considered the most dominant coronavirus strain as of Dec. 20, when CDC data showed omicron made up 73 percent of new COVID-19 infections.
This latest strain has the ability to spread much more rapidly other variants, including the highly transmissible delta variant, but it also has a shorter incubation period between exposure and infection. That enables the strain to spread much faster than previous ariants, Diekema said.
“It really is the most successful viral variant in terms of its ability to spread in human populations,” he said.
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics currently has about 50 COVID-19 patients — about half the number during last winter’s peak.
However, Brownlee said the hospital has many of its beds full to to patients needing other medical care.
Hospital leaders also are concerned about the impact of omicron of their health care workforce, Diekema and Brownlee said. Staff could miss work because of an infection or to care for sick children or other loved ones, which strains the system’s resources.
Diekema encouraged Iowans to seek out a COVID-19 test if they are experiencing symptoms, but cautioned against relying solely on at-home rapid tests. If individuals are experiencing symptoms, they should seek out a PCR test, such as those available for free through Test Iowa and county public health departments, he said.
All individuals should be wearing masks often, especially in public or indoor group settings, Brownlee said. Studies have shown N95s and other medical-grade masks are more effective in preventing virus spread than cloth masks, he said.
Most importantly, to help stem the spread, health care providers continue to urge residents to take precautions and get vaccinated against the virus.
“You can play an active role in helping provide safety for yourself in the community by getting the vaccine, by getting the booster,” Brownlee said.
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