Omicron variant of COVID-19 identified in 12 Iowa counties

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By Katie Akin, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Iowa has identified 41 cases of the omicron variant in 12 of the state’s most populous counties, the Iowa Department of Public Health said Wednesday.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to be more contagious than the initial strain of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It can spread between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, although the COVID vaccine reduces the likelihood of severe illness.

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The CDC estimates about 28% of cases in Iowa and surrounding states were caused by the omicron variant in the last week. In the week of Dec. 18, the CDC estimates that only 6% of cases in Iowa were omicron.

Sarah Ekstrand, a spokesperson for IDPH, said Wednesday that cases of omicron had been identified in 12 Iowa counties:

Black Hawk County

Buena Vista County

Des Moines County

Dubuque County

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Franklin County

Jefferson County

Johnson County

Linn County

Polk County

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Scott County

Story County

Winneshiek County

Ekstrand advised Iowans to assume omicron is spreading in the community.

Iowa sees surge of testing around holidays

An average of 13,186 Iowans are taking a COVID test each day, the New York Times reported Wednesday. That’s an increase of 37% from two weeks ago, when fewer than 10,000 tests were conducted each day.

Family get-togethers and the contagious omicron variant increased demand for testing in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Many stores sold out of rapid at-home tests, and people nationwide waited in long lines for PCR swabs.

Hy-Vee and other pharmacies expect to replenish their stock of at-home tests in the coming days, the Des Moines Register reported. Last week, the Biden administration announced a plan to mail free, at-home testing kits to Americans who want them, but the kits won’t be available until January.

Iowans looking for a PCR test — a more precise result that often takes a few days to process in a lab — have several options to get tested. Test Iowa, the state’s testing program, offers take-home PCR testing kits. Individuals swab their nose at home, then mail the sample to the lab for processing. Hy-Vee also offers free PCR testing by appointment.

Iowa’s average cases and hospitalizations dip from early December

Although more Iowans are being tested, the average daily number of new cases has decreased from earlier this month. On Dec. 7, Iowa recorded a peak of 1,897 new cases per day, on average. On Wednesday, the average was 1,446 cases.

Hospitalizations were also down on Wednesday. There were 711 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, including 165 in the ICU. In mid-December, there was an average of about 850 COVID patients in the hospital.

Nationally, however, cases in the U.S. reached a new high this week. Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed a seven-day average of 265,000 cases per day. That’s 13,000 more daily cases than the previous peak, recorded in January.

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