This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Reports of new cases of COVID-19 in Hardin County were down slightly over the last week. It’s a welcome reprieve from the recent uptick in coronavirus cases, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns of the potential for a rapid increase in infections amid spread of the omicron variant in the U.S.

The Iowa Department of Public Health Reported on Wednesday that between Dec. 15 and 21, Hardin County recorded 62 new cases of COVID-19, a decrease from the 72 new cases reported last week and the 78 reported the week before. In total, since March 2020, Hardin County has recorded 3,104 cases of COVID-19. Of those, 2,805 people are reported as having recovered and 55 local residents have died. That leaves Hardin County with 244 known active cases of the disease as of Tuesday, up from 224 active cases last week and 197 the week before.

COVID Cases in Hardin County

A chart on the Iowa Department of Public Health's coronavirus website shows positive COVID-19 tests from March 2020 through Dec. 21, 2021.

Hospitalizations in Iowa, which reached a 2021 high of 843 patients on Dec. 13, were down this week. The state reported that as of Tuesday, 747 people were hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19, down from 823 one week earlier. There are also fewer people in Iowa’s ICUs this week – 158 as of Tuesday, down from 173 the week before. It is not known how many Hardin County residents are hospitalized. The state stopped collecting and reporting that data last month.

But amid the good news of decreasing hospitalizations and fewer new cases is a warning that Iowa may begin to see an uptick in disease transmission as the omicron variant spreads across the country. Cities on the East Coast have reported steep increases in disease transmission in recent weeks. The New York Times COVID-19 tracker reports Washington, D.C. has recorded 134 new cases per 100,000 population over the last week, an increase of 440 percent in the last 14 days.

The CDC warns that the omicron variant could fuel “steep epidemic trajectories.”

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified the potential for a rapid increase in infections of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the Omicron variant, in the United States,” the agency’s website states. “Plausible scenarios include steep epidemic trajectories that would require expedient public health action to prevent severe impacts on the health of individuals and the healthcare system.”

According to the CDC’s COVID data tracker, during the week that ended Dec. 11, the delta variant of COVID-19 constituted about 87 percent of cases in the U.S. and omicron was 12.6 percent. One week later, during the week that ended Dec. 18, omicron overtook delta as the most prevalent strain of the disease with 73.2 percent of cases compared to delta’s 26.6 percent.

It’s unclear how the severity of an infection of the omicron variant compares to other variants of coronavirus. Several new studies suggest patients infected with the omicron variant may be less likely to need hospitalization. The CDC recommends vaccination, masks and testing as tools of protection against all strains of coronavirus. Iowa Capital Dispatch reported on Wednesday that the omicron variant has been detected in 10 Iowa counties, including Franklin County, which neighbors Hardin County to the north, and Story County, to the south.

As of Tuesday this week, 53 percent of Hardin County’s total population had been fully vaccinated. That’s 8,937 people, an increase of 62 fully vaccinated residents in one week. The Iowa Department of Public Health reports that 56.4 percent of Hardin County’s population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

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