Omicron variant causes major surge in Boyle County

Published 11:08 am Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Omicron surge is in full swing in Kentucky, as COVID-19 cases are breaking records and overwhelming hospitals. In Boyle County, the surge seems to be nearing its peak, according to Boyle County Public Health Director Brent Blevins.

Boyle County has had around 50 new cases a day for the past week or two, up from an average of five to 10 per day in November. There were 497 new COVID cases in the county from Jan. 5 to Jan. 18. That number for a two-week period is significantly higher than the case number of 353 for the whole month of December.

Kentucky reached a record high of 72,165 new COVID-19 cases for a Monday-to-Sunday reporting week.

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That number is more than double what was recorded per week during the Delta surge in September 2021.

Kentucky also reported a record one-day case count of 14,896 new cases on Saturday. Out of Tuesday’s 8,742 new cases, 27.8% were in people 18 and younger.

Brent Blevins

“It seems like this [surge] was faster and steeper going up, and so hopefully that translates to faster and steeper going down,” Blevins said.

In Boyle County, deaths from COVID-19 increased by 22 in six weeks from December to Jan. 11. On Dec, 1, 2021, the county had 96 total deaths; as of Jan. 11, the county had 118 deaths.

This increase could be partly due to high numbers of cases going unreported. Blevins said he’s seen many people who tested positive for COVID but had no idea they had it. Many cases are asymptomatic, and some people who tested positive thought the virus was allergies or a sinus infection.

At Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, they had 24 COVID patients in the hospital on Jan. 18, up from 15 patients on Jan. 6. They have had 75 patients for the month of January so far. Of those people currently in the hospital, 79% are not vaccinated.

“A lot of the people who were hit the hardest are the ones who have other co-morbidities like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure; those are common for people we see who are very, very sick,” Blevins said.

A total of eight people at Ephraim McDowell have died of COVID in January. Six of the eight were not vaccinated. Blevins said people who have had a COVID vaccine who get the virus are likely to have less severe symptoms.

In Boyle County, 63% of people have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and 55% are fully vaccinated.

Nationally, 75.7% of people have had at least one dose, and 63% are fully vaccinated.

The Boyle County Health Department has vaccination walk-in clinics every Monday from 3 to 5 p.m. They rotate which vaccine they offer each week for Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson.

The Omicron variant, while more contagious, is less serious than other variants. Blevins said that while hospitalizations have gone up, they haven’t increased at the same level as previous surges.

“Maybe that speaks to more people being vaccinated and even if they’re positive, it cuts the symptoms in half, and cuts the need for hospitalizations, which is the goal of vaccination,” he said.

Positivity rates have also reached record highs. In Kentucky, the current rate is about 30%. Almost one in three people who have tested for COVID-19 are positive. In Boyle County, the rate is about 20%.

The local health department has reminded people to wear masks, social distance, wash hands, and get vaccinated. Blevins said schools are doing contract tracing and having students and faculty isolate or quarantine when needed.

New guidelines from the CDC say that if you have been around someone who tested positive for COVID, as long as you are masked and not having symptoms, you don’t need to be quarantined or isolated.

“It’s just working to help keep kids in school who maybe don’t need to be out of school for a couple days,” Blevins said.

Testing for COVID-19 is available at Ephraim McDowell and local pharmaceutical companies.