COVID-19 hospitalizations maintain upward tilt in Johnson County, worrying health experts

Johnson County COVID-19

Local health officials continue to worry how the new Omicron variant is affecting Johnson County as COVID-19 cases rise. The most recent seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations stood at 29 on Wednesday, nearing the peak of 35 hit in early January. Meanwhile, health officials continue to encourage eligible residents to get vaccinated. Image via JCDHE.

As the rate hospitalizations from COVID-19 keep rising in Johnson County and the Kansas City more broadly during this holiday season, local health officials continue to worry how the new Omicron variant is affecting the area.

As of Wednesday, data collected by the Mid-America Regional Council showed that the seven-day rolling average for new COVID-19 hospitalizations in Johnson County was 29, an increase of 5.7% from the previous week.

That’s nearing the peak of 35 daily hospitalizations recorded in Johnson County in early January, before widespread vaccination efforts had kicked into high gear.

Daily hospitalizations in Johnson County, via Mid-America Regional Council.

Across the Kansas City metro, MARC data showed a seven-day average of 151 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day over the past week, a decline of nearly 4% from the previous week.

At the same time, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that the incidence rate of new cases has increased this week to 407 per 100,000 residents. Percent positivity has increased to 11.5%.

Omicron more widespread

The University of Kansas Health System’s chief medical officer Dr. Steven Stites said during Wednesday’s daily COVID-19 briefing that anywhere between 15% to 45% of new COVID-19 cases in the Kansas City metro are likely caused by Omicron.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the Omicron variant is the dominant variant of COVID-19 nationwide.

However, this week, the agency slashed initial estimates of Omicron’s prevalence. Earlier this month, the CDC reported Omicron made up around 73% of all new cases. As of Tuesday, the CDC reduced that figure to about 53%.

Early evidence suggests this latest variant may cause less severe illness but is far more contagious than previous variants.

Though Stites said hospitalizations are between 40% to 70% less likely to occur with Omicron as compared to the Delta variant, that does not mean the community should not be concerned.

“The problem is… let’s say you’re 50% less likely to be hospitalized with Omicron than Delta, but Omicron is two to four times more infectious than Delta,” Stites said. “So even if 50% [fewer people infected with Omicron] will be hospitalized, if twice as many people are infected, it will be the same number flooding hospitals.”

In order to fight the spread of the new Omicron variant, university officials implored residents to get fully vaccinated and received a booster shot if they have not done so already, especially in residents 65 or older.

“Data that came out in the last month showed that of all the nursing facility residents or older adults, anyone over 65, in the study who had received full vaccination, 69% of them had no evidence of antibodies at that six month peak,” said general and geriatric medicine Dr. Jessica Kalender-Rich.

To learn more about booster shots, click here.