3 cases of omicron variant found in Dane County

Researchers still trying to find out more about omicron as delta takes a toll on state, nation

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Steve Grove, a chaplain at Hennepin County Medical Center, prays in a COVID-19 patient's room
Steve Grove, a chaplain at Hennepin County Medical Center, prays in a COVID-19 patient’s room, Dec. 10, 2021, in Minneapolis. Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

As Wisconsin copes with a wave of COVID-19 infections caused by the delta variant, Dane County announced Thursday that three cases of the omicron variant have been detected, bringing the total number in the state up to five.

Wisconsin’s first known case of omicron was found Dec. 4 in Milwaukee County. Both state and local health officials say it’s likely there are more COVID-19 cases with the new strain first found in South Africa.

They urged people to get vaccinated and get a booster shot if eligible. Data from the state Department of Health Services for November shows those who are not fully vaccinated were hospitalized at a rate 11 times higher than people who were. They also died from COVID-19 at a rate 12 times higher than those who received the shots.

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Currently, it’s the delta strain that continues to dominate and which is responsible for the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations locally and across the nation.

“The delta variant remains able to spread fast and that’s what it’s doing in the Midwest and northeastern states right now,” said Public Health Madison & Dane County director Janel Heinrich during an online briefing Thursday.

She urged people to pay attention to omicron, but “not panic.” The omicron variant is still being studied to determine how easily it spreads and whether it causes more severe symptoms.

In Wisconsin, nearly 96 percent of intensive care units are in use and the 7-day average for daily COVID-19 infections is 3,804. Over the course of two weeks, infections have increased 38 percent in Wisconsin and hospitalizations went up 23 percent, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data published by the New York Times.

Forty-eight percent of Dane County residents eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot have gotten one, and nearly half of 5–11-year-olds have received at least one dose of vaccine. Statewide, 18 percent of this age group is partially vaccinated and 11 percent is fully vaccinated.

Health officials in the state’s two largest cities are urging people to increase their protection by wearing a mask indoors in public places.

Dane County’s current mask order is set to expire Jan. 3, but Heinrich said it’s too early to tell if it will be extended. The city of Milwaukee doesn’t require masks but has recommended people use them.

“As many people have already begun to plan and attend holiday gatherings, we encourage you to celebrate safely,” said Milwaukee Health commissioner Kirsten Johnson during a briefing earlier this week. “This means wearing a mask when you are in crowded indoor spaces regardless of your vaccine status.”

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