BOISE, Idaho — Idaho health leaders warned Tuesday that the Omicron variant is leading the surge of COVID-19 cases across the state - now making up nearly 90% of new infections.
The revelation came during the Idaho Department of HEalth and Welfare's weekly COVID-19 briefing Tuesday as case counts continue to trend upward across the state.
The percent of positive covid tests has doubled in the last month from 8.6 percent in December to 17.1 percent in January.
By comparison, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says the Delta wave peaked at 17.3 percent positivity.
"We expect that to continue to increase," state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said.
The address comes the day after 1,289 new cases were confirmed. Doctors say the Omicron variant - now 88% of positive cases in Idaho - appears to be highly contagious but possibly less severe than previous variants.
The increased demand for testing has created backlogs of nearly 15,000 tests, making it tougher for health officials to get an accurate picture of the spike. If the infection trends continue however, officials are predicting a major increase.
"With about 3,000 positive results that Idaho public health districts are having to manage every day, it is exceedingly difficult to turn those investigations around in 24 hours," said deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner. "This would represent one of the highest seven-day average incident rates we've seen over the course of the pandemic."
Health and Welfare uses percent positivity as a tool to predict what is ahead for Idaho's hospitals in the next couple of weeks.
Ada and Bannock counties have seen the highest numbers of new cases this week, with 191 and 185 cases respectively. Increasingly hospital and clinic workers are falling ill, leading to staff shortages.
Primary Health, which has been hit hard by the number of people seeking care, was forced to temporarily close four clinics last week. On Tuesday, Saint Alphonsus announced that three of its urgent care locations will also be closed on weekends going forward due to the high number of sick staff.
Hospital leaders have warned that the "fifth wave" of COVID cases could place Idaho back into crisis standards of care. The state was under crisis standards earlier in the fall as the Delta variant infected scores of Idahoans, but numbers improved enough to leave the designation in late November.
Hospitalizations remain lower than in the September spike, even as case counts climb, something doctors have attributed to the higher number of those who are vaccinated and have received booster shots. The overwhelming majority of those who end up hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
"Healthcare systems are under a tremendous amount of stress right now, and we expect it to get worse before it gets better," Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said.
At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.
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