By Jim McLean
Kansas health officials have confirmed the first case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant in the state.
Janet Stanek, acting secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said laboratory tests confirmed that an adult in Franklin County, just southwest of Johnson County, was infected with the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus.
The unidentified individual was fully vaccinated but had not received a booster shot, the agency said Thursday afternoon.
“The detection of the variant does not come as a surprise,” Stanek said. “This virus is highly infectious and transmittable.”
Though breakthrough infections are on the rise, officials say vaccination remains the best protection against serious illness and hospitalization.
Higher vaccination rates also reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging.
About 56% of all Kansas residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That ranks Kansas 30th among the states.
Vermont – with 76% of its residents vaccinated – leads a group of New England states at the top of the rankings.
The numbers are more encouraging among certain segments of the Kansas population.
Nearly 68% of Kansans 18 and older are fully vaccinated. That number climbs to almost 88% among those 65 and older. More than half the people in the older age group have also had a booster shot.
The detection of the Omicron variant is likely to accelerate what has been a steady rise in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks.
The state’s running average of new cases has increased by 33% since the first of the month, according to the New York Times. Hospitalizations are up 28% over the same time period.
Ximena Garcia, a physician and COVID-19 advisor to Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, said the detection of the Omicron variant is troubling news for hospitals already struggling with a surge in COVID patients.
“Even if it (Omicron) does turn out to be a milder illness, it’s possible that it can still overwhelm our medical system if it takes hold,” Garcia said Wednesday during a meeting of the governor’s Vaccine Equity Taskforce.
Many hospitals across Kansas are dealing with an influx of COVID patients, most of whom are unvaccinated.
Officials at Topeka’s Stormont-Vail Health say they’re already limiting transfers of COVID patients due to a lack of capacity.
Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.