As omicron weakens, health officials urge diligence; summer lull not a certainty | Health - freetxp

As omicron weakens, health officials urge diligence; summer lull not a certainty | Health

State health officials are cautioning against complacency as the omicron variant wave of the coronavirus pandemic fades around the country and in North Dakota.

Active cases of COVID-19 ticked up slightly on Friday, to 835, but they’ve plummeted in recent weeks. This week the state’s 14-day rolling test positivity rate fell back below the state target of less than 5% for the first time in more than half a year.

COVID-19 hospitalizations also have nose-dived, falling by two-thirds since the start of February, to 59 on Friday.

“COVID cases, hospitalization and other indicators are heading in the right direction. The omicron wave continues to decrease,” said Michelle Dethloff, who manages the state Health Department’s Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Program.

North Dakota experienced a pandemic lull much of last summer, with relatively low case and hospitalization numbers for months between the widespread availability of vaccines in the spring and the onset last fall of the highly contagious delta variant, which ultimately was supplanted by omicron.

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A similar pattern isn’t a certainty this year.

“There remains uncertainty regarding emerging variants, so continuing to follow CDC’s guidelines is warranted,” Dethloff said. “Individuals should get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate if positive, notify close contacts, and choose to be vaccinated including being up to date for COVID-19 vaccine.”

The Health Department’s coronavirus dashboard on Friday showed 125 new cases, a relatively low daily positivity rate of 2.91%, and no new virus-related deaths.

There have been 238,625 confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Dakota during the pandemic that began two years ago, with 235,585 recoveries, 2,205 deaths and 7,821 hospitalizations.

The most recent state data showed about 11% of staffed inpatient hospital beds available statewide and about 12% of intensive care unit beds open. In Bismarck, CHI St. Alexius Health had 15 open general care beds and three available ICU beds; Sanford Health had one available bed in each category.

The state case data includes only clinically verified tests. Results of in-home tests that recently became widely available are not required to be reported to the state and are thus not included in the totals.

Omicron hangs around

Even though the omicron wave has subsided, the variant is still present in the state. Confirmed omicron cases increased by more than 32% over the past week, according to data provided by Dethloff.

About 5-10% of total positive COVID-19 tests weekly typically undergo a more complex process at the state lab through which variants are determined — enough to give state health officials a sufficient sample size.

“This past week, we had 720 sequenced samples reported and 651 (90.4%) were omicron,” Dethloff said.

Confirmed delta cases in the state increased this week by 69, a rise of 1.4%. There have been no new cases of the alpha, beta, gamma, epsilon or mu variants since late September.

There have been 561 hospitalizations and 103 deaths tied to variants in North Dakota, with the bulk of them linked to delta, which causes more severe symptoms than omicron. There have been 76 documented omicron hospitalsizations and eight deaths. That compares with delta’s 373 hospitalizations and 82 deaths.

More information

North Dakota continues to have one of the worst COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Agency data shows 65.2% of adults in the state being fully vaccinated. The rate for all vaccine-eligible people in the state — age 5 and older — is 58.6%. The national averages are 75.1% and 69.2%, respectively.

The CDC also recommends COVID-19 booster shots for people ages 12 and older. In North Dakota, 41.6% of people in that age group have received a booster. The national rate is 45.5%.

People can go to https://www.ndvax.org or call 866-207-2880 to see where the COVID-19 vaccine is available near them. A list of free COVID-19 testing offered by local public health units is at health.nd.gov/covidtesting. That site also lists where free at-home test kits are being offered. For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus. For more information on coronavirus variants, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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