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Southern Indiana health official says rise in COVID-19 cases could be omicron

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A Southern Indiana health official says although the new omicron COVID-19 variant hasn’t been confirmed in that part of the state, the recent rise in cases shows it could already be there.

Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said both the health department and LifeSpring Health Systems, the community health agency where he’s chief medical officer, had full slots Friday for COVID testing, with many others calling in with questions. 

He said it is likely a mix of both people wanting to get tested before the holidays, and those who are sick.

“There are probably some folks who have some very mild symptoms that they normally wouldn't worry about but they're getting ready to go to family events so they’re getting tested. You have some that are just worried that are wanting to get tested and you have some who are symptomatic,” he said. “And there's an increased number of that.”

On Tuesday, the Indiana Department of Health reported 3,805 new daily cases and 118 new deaths. The positivity rate for all tests between Dec. 8 and 14 is 13.4%. 

In Clark County, there were 48 new cases and three new deaths with an overall positivity rate of 11.9% and in Floyd, 24 new cases, one new death and positivity at 12.1%. 

The first Indiana omicron case was identified Sunday, although state health officials are not saying where it was found. 

The state department of health dashboard showed in its Tuesday update that delta accounted for 99.8% of all sequenced cases. Omicron has shown in 0.1% of cases so far. 

Yazel said it’s too early to say for sure whether the rise in cases in Southern Indiana is due to the new variant.

“But I’ll be honest, I’m operating under the assumption it’s omicron,” he said. “When we see a change in the pattern, something is different.”

Yazel said Clark Memorial Health, where he works in the emergency room, has also seen a rise in admittances with around 30 COVID-19 patients there. 

He said he’s also seen more patients with symptoms more often attributed to the omicron strain. Health officials in areas with a lot of omicron have reported symptoms like a scratchy throat and running nose, significant fatigue and night sweats. 

Kentucky identified its first cases Friday in four counties, including Jefferson. Louisville officials confirmed the city’s first case Tuesday in a resident who was vaccinated in February but had not received a booster shot. 

The new variant was first reported to the World Health Organization in late November, after it showed up in samples in South Africa. 

Testing is still ongoing to determine disease severity, but health officials say it is more than twice as contagious as the highly transmissible delta variant. Early findings from Pfizer and Moderna show boosters of their vaccines can help prevent serious illness or hospitalization. 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the number of daily cases reported by the Indiana Department of Health on Tuesday. 

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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