Omicron Wisconsin's dominant COVID variant after 4 weeks

The omicron variant is now the dominant COVID-19 variant in Wisconsin, taking just four weeks. While early data suggests the illness may be milder, health experts say its ability to spread should be sounding alarm bells.

In just four weeks, the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has become the dominant strain in Wisconsin, according to the state health lab.

"When it comes to transmissibility, there’s no doubt," said Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County chief health policy advisor. "The data shows it’s really off the charts; two to 10 times as transmissible as delta."

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Delta, the previous strain, was more contagious than the one that preceded it, which is why Dr. Weston says this should be your plan:

  • If you're not vaccinated, get it scheduled.
  • Get your second shot or a booster shot if you're eligible.
  • Toss aside that cloth mask in favor of a higher quality mask, like the KN95.

"The vaccine seems to be effective," said Dr. Weston. "Still, the booster is much more effective, so that’s why it’s so critical to get boosted."

Hospitalizations are also on the rise. As of Tuesday, Dec. 29, there are nearly 1,700 COVID-19 patients in Wisconsin hospital beds; more than 400 in the ICU, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, with most of that coming in previous waves of variants.

Early evidence suggests omicron is less severe, especially for those who are vaccinated and boosted, but since it's more contagious, that worries Dr. Weston.

"When you have that much more transmissibility, you have to drop your severity quite a bit to even out your hospitalizations, and I’m not sure this severity drops that much," he said.

Odds are with the holiday season and demand for testing, Weston says, unfortunately, we will see whether that's the case here shortly.

Weston says if you need information on reputable places to get tested or schedule your vaccines, you can go to HealthyMMKE.com.

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