While it's unclear just when the COVID-19 omicron surge will crest, mid-Missourians should expect the timeline locally to lag behind the East Coast because the variant began ravaging that part of the country earlier, Columbia health leaders say.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking Sunday on ABC's "This Week," expressed measured confidence that most states will have reached a peak by mid-February.
"It's hard to be able to tell the future of what case numbers will look like," Sara Humm, Columbia/Boone County health department spokesperson, wrote in an email to the Tribune on Monday morning. "However, it's likely that we will lag behind the peak date of places like New York. That is because states like New York saw an increase in cases related to omicron a few weeks before we did here in mid-Missouri. That being said, it's hard to be able to predict what might happen."
During an interview on ABC's "This Week," Fauci said several states in the Northeast and Upper Midwest have seen cases peak and begin to decline sharply, but cases are still rising in the South and West.
"(The East Coast was) quite a bit ahead of us on detection," Columbia/Boone County health Director Stephanie Browning reported to the Columbia City Council last week, adding Missouri would "probably be a little bit behind" in the curve of the surge.
The omicron variant first appeared in Missouri on Nov. 24, with a significant increase in cases about a month later. Boone County did not detect the variant in wastewater until Dec. 14; the increase in cases locally began in earnest 13 days later.
MU Health Care and Boone Health officials agreed that it is hard to know when Boone County will reach its peak.
"I think it's too early to say that we have peaked or are peaking," said Dr. Laura Hesemann, MU Health Care chief of staff, during an interview last Wednesday. "There is some indication that that is happening in some places in the U.S., but here in Columbia, we have tended to lag behind the coasts or the bigger cities.
"COVID-19 hit us later than it did in those places and the peaks hit us later, so I think we can expect a couple more weeks of this surge."
When the community experiences a surge in cases, it is often weeks later that the hospitals feel the effect of the increase, she added.
Dr. Robin Blount, chief medical officer at Boone Health, also said in an interview last week that while she and her colleagues have been receiving encouraging reports from states where omicron first appeared, it is hard to estimate when local cases will decline.
"There's no way to say we've reached our peak yet," she said. "... I wish we could say that we will feel a lot better about a month from now, but I have no idea."
The local health department did not update numbers on its information hub Friday as it works to develop a new way to provide COVID-19 data to the public.
The recent spike led to an increased workload for the health department, and details will be released this week about how it will report information in "a way that is feasible for our staff while still providing data to the public," the department wrote in a tweet.
As of last Thursday, there were 3,461 active cases in Boone County and 163 hospitalizations related to the virus.
"We continue to see the highest number of cases we've had during the entirety of the pandemic," the department wrote.
Around the country, Fauci said there may be "a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations" in areas where a higher percentage of people have not been fully vaccinated or received a booster shot.
The goal is to get infections under control to where the virus isn't eliminated but at a level low enough that "it's essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections" that Americans have learned to live with, he said.
USA TODAY contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Health officials expect COVID-19 omicron variant to linger in Missouri