Omicron COVID-19 variant hasn't peaked for Ozarks yet, say Missouri health officials

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With classes pivoting to online learning and school boards contemplating the return to required masking, health care leaders met virtually to update the community of the high numbers of current COVID-19 infections.

Making up nearly 70 percent of tested samples, genomic sequencing has confirmed that omicron is the dominate variant in our area, which is seeing a seven-day average at an "all time high" of 716 new cases per day, said Katie Towns, director for Springfield-Greene County Health, during the news conference Wednesday.

While the current case count across Greene County has started to slow, current rates of COVID-19 infections are higher now than they were at the start of the pandemic, according to health officials.

More: Springfield area leaders hoping omicron nearing 'plateau' but still concerned with hospitalizations

"The past few weeks have been challenging for our community, to say the least, and while our daily case count has started to slow and show early signs of a possible plateau in cases, our current rate of cases per day is still far greater than at any time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic," Towns said.

Springfield-Greene County Health Director Katie Towns speaks during a press briefing about the surge in COVID-19 cases in Greene County at the Greene County Public Safety Center on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.
Springfield-Greene County Health Director Katie Towns speaks during a press briefing about the surge in COVID-19 cases in Greene County at the Greene County Public Safety Center on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.

A common misconception Towns addressed is that omicron sees milder symptoms, so why worry about it? That is not the case, Towns said.

"It does cause severe illness, hospitalization and even death among others," Towns said. "Those that are unvaccinated, the severity of illness does not always conform to a pattern. You do not have to be older or have preexisting conditions to end up hospitalized."

Tuesday, there were 251 people in community hospitals, ranging in age and health histories, Towns said. There were also 10 additional deaths in people ranging ages between their 30s, 40s and 50s. Each were unvaccinated.

Towns reiterated the CDC's rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots are some of the best ways to protect yourself and others.

"An unvaccinated adult is 16 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19," Towns said. "Receiving a booster dose offers significantly more protection, especially for those whose age put them at a higher risk for severe infection."

More: Missouri health department asks non-urgent patients to avoid ERs during COVID-19 surge

The local data shows vaccines and booster doses are helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Greene County, Towns said. To inquire or schedule your COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot, call 417-874-1211 or visit https://www.springfieldmo.gov/5376/Vaccine-Information.

Masking while in public places and staying home when you're sick also helps in slowing the surge, Towns said.

"By taking these steps we can hope to alleviate some of the strain on our hospitals and help put our children back in the classroom," Towns said. Springfield school leaders are currently seeking a temporary return to required masking.

Brent Hubbard, president and COO of Mercy Hospitals Springfield, speaks at a news conference Wednesday in Springfield.
Brent Hubbard, president and COO of Mercy Hospitals Springfield, speaks at a news conference Wednesday in Springfield.

Mercy Hospitals Springfield President and COO Brent Hubbard said there are 166 patients in their care. This past week, there were 350 employees out on quarantine. This week, there are just below 100. There have been at least 50 deaths due to COVID-19 at Mercy, Hubbard said.

"Our workforce across Mercy and Cox continues to be challenged with the amount of patients that we're seeing, the acuity, but we're all in this together," Hubbard said.

More: Greene County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 49% of people fully vaccinated

On Tuesday, there were 195 COVID-19 cases at CoxHealth, said Steve Edwards, president and CEO. In the past week, 24 people have died, and there have been 73 deaths for January at CoxHealth.

Steve Edwards, president and CEO of CoxHealth, speaks at a news conference Wednesday in Springfield.
Steve Edwards, president and CEO of CoxHealth, speaks at a news conference Wednesday in Springfield.

Both Hubbard and Edwards said this disease is not like the common cold.

"With a vaccine, this can really be just a complicated cold, and without a vaccine, we have people regretfully dying and we're losing two patients a day," Edwards said.

Sara Karnes is an Outdoors Reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Email her at skarnes@springfi.gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Omicron variant hasn't peaked yet, but COVID still impacting hospitals

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