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Omicron is now the dominant variant in Arizona

Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 6:36 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The omicron variant has become the dominant variant in Arizona according to research by the Arizona State University Biodesign Team.

Dr. Joe Gerald, the Public Health Director at the University of Arizona, says the Biodesign Team estimates 55% to 60% of the new cases in Arizona are of the omicron variant.

“Omicron is here, it’s now the most common variant,” Dr. Gerald said. “We should expect the next two weeks to see the cases rise very briskly.”

In part because the variant is extremely transmissible, much more so than the delta variant or the original alpha variant.

“We should very shortly see a pretty marked increase in daily cases but there should also be a decoupling between cases and hospitalizations,” he said. “Such that cases will go up much higher than hospitalizations.”

Even though cases will go up much faster, basic math says a sharp rise in cases will also lead to an increase in the number of people who will need hospital care even though symptoms may not be as severe.

“It shouldn’t be taken with a grain of salt that everything will be fine and these will all be mild cases,” said Jessica Rigler, the Bureau Chief of Epidemiology and Disease Control at the Arizona Department of Health Services. “So even though the variant is less severe we can still see very severe situations including hospitalizations with that in our elderly populations and in our community members who have underlying medical conditions.”

Hospitals in Southern Arizona are already overburdened with as few as one of two ICU beds available in all of Pima County. Any increase in need will have an impact.

“One of the things we’re going to see is widespread cancellations or postponement in these medically necessary but non emergent cases,” Dr. Gerald said. “We should expect hospitals to be running at or near capacity for the entire month of January.”

Those postponements will likely include things like bypass surgery, some cancer treatments, strokes, and trauma cases which will make the need for hospital services more necessary as their conditions worsen.

There is some good news on the omicron front is that the same mitigation strategies used to fight delta also work well with omicron.

“That’s getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, upgrading that mask to KN95 or higher, maintaining some physical distance and avoiding those really high risk indoor situations where transmission is likely,” said Dr. Gerald.