‘People should not be complacent about this.’ Growing omicron cases prompt warning from local health experts

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — As omicron cases continue to grow, local doctors are urging Hoosiers to take precautions to keep you and those around you safe.

The latest projections from the CDC show the omicron variant to be the most dominant in the country.

“What we’re seeing from the CDC is that the week ending January 1st, 95 percent of new cases in the United States are omicron. That’s up from about 58 percent the week before,” said Dr. Paul Driscoll, executive medical director of Franciscan Physician Network Central Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Health still shows delta as the state’s dominant strain with the latest update pinned around the beginning of December.

However, Driscoll says omicron is likely behind new cases at his facility.

“We’re now approaching our peak levels of in-patient activity for the entire pandemic,” said Dr. Paul Driscoll, executive medical director of Franciscan Physician Network Central Indiana, “We do feel that this is likely being driven by omicron cases.”

A big driver behind the surge is how quickly and easily the variant spreads.

“This variant is much more contagious than the previous one, at least two to three times, maybe more than that,” said Driscoll.

“Some of it is the weather. People are inside. Some of it is the holidays and large gatherings that people have been around, but some of it is the virus itself,” said Dr. Christopher Belcher, infection prevention medical director at Ascension St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital. “It’s really a virus that grows in large numbers very quickly, and it tends to hang out in the upper airway in the nose and throat. So coughing, sneezing, talking, breathing are all more likely to spread the virus.”

Driscoll says it’s possible next month could be turning a point when it comes to the omicron surge. However, like we’ve seen before in the pandemic, it can easily change.

“The current model that we’re seeing suggests that, optimistically, the omicron surge may peak by the end of this month and then start to drop down,” he said. “We don’t know that for sure, but looking at the data from South Africa and the UK, which are a little bit ahead of us, this variant appears to be peaking more quickly and then starting to recede more quickly. At least that’s our hope the same thing will happen here.”

As Hoosiers navigate the omicron variant, Driscoll and Belcher say it’s important people still take precautions despite omicron’s “less severe” reputation.

“Even though we are seeing less severe disease, a lot of that may be because we’re seeing breakthrough infections in people that have either previously been infected or been vaccinated, and their cases are mild,” Driscoll said, “but the people that are ending up in the hospitals seriously ill are those that have largely been unvaccinated.”

“People should not be complacent about this,” he added. “The omicron variant is still able to infect people much more efficiently than the previous variants, and they need to take it seriously.”

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