The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Monday that, nationally, the omicron strain is now the dominant form of COVID-19 in the U.S., comprising roughly 73% of cases.
In the Tri-State area, omicron hasn't stepped into center stage just yet, according to Dr. Stephen Feagins, chief clinical officer with Mercy Health. Delta is still the dominant strain in the local region, but Feagins said hospitals are still straining as cases rise.
"Our concern is that it will start going back up," he said. "We were hoping we'd go back down. In fact, we're kind of where we were last year."
With the delta strain, the doubling time seen in hospitals is around nine days. The omicron variant spreads much faster, doubling in two to three days.
"Here we are, with what we thought, delta, was highly transmissible," said Feagins. "We have something that essentially you can just breathe on each other and transmit."
Feagins said he believes the Tri-State can expect to see a spike in cases in early January, following the holiday season.
"We are preparing for what will very likely be a very quick upswing in cases," he said. "Case reports from around the world say it might be less severe and cause less hospitalizations, but sheer numbers. Even a lower percentage of a much higher number continues to be a lot of hospitalizations."
Feagins, and other doctors and medical experts nationwide, concede that getting the COVID-19 vaccine does not give a person a 100% guarantee they won't get COVID-19, because breakthrough cases do happen. But the shots mean patients who do get the virus are much less likely to suffer from severe and deadly symptoms.
A spike in flu cases is expected, as well, following indoor gatherings and the height of the season.