With Oklahoma grade school students starting the spring semester, some local health experts think the number of Omicron cases will keep increasing.
As of January 7, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 39,000 active COVID-19 cases, with about 6,400 of those considered to be new cases Friday.
Dr. Dale Bratzler with OU Health said during his weekly press briefing that hospitalizations often lag behind new cases. In the last three to four days, Oklahoma has seen about 12,000 new COVID-19 cases. Because of that, he said he's worried hospitalizations will go up in the next couple of weeks.
Just more than 1,000 Oklahomans were in the hospital with COVID-19 on January 7.
When it comes to schools, many are just returning for the spring semester. At the collegiate level, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University start Monday, January 10. The University of Tulsa starts the following Monday, January 18.
With this new semester underway, Dr. Bratzler thinks we'll see additional spread very soon. That's mainly because Omicron is so contagious, and he worries it'll lead to outbreaks in classrooms, ultimately infecting teachers. "I don't think we'll see the actual peak perhaps before the end of January. If we follow the course that other countries have, then perhaps we'll see a fairly steep decline," he said.
While he does agree that children belong in the classroom, "the problem for many schools is [the Omicron] variant is so contagious that there will be outbreaks in classrooms and faculty and staff will be infected."
The Omicron variant is particularly tough on children, with many developing a croup-like cough (tight, low pitched, barking cough). Doctor Bratzler said the US has seen a 60-percent increase in child hospitalizations from COVID with this type of cough.
Doctor Bratzler also believes Omicron cases will start to go down in mid-February. However, he explained that it will get worse before it gets better. "I don't have any reason to think [next week will] be much better because there are still so many vulnerable people in Oklahoma who are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant."
This comes as the seven-day rolling average in Oklahoma is approaching the highest peak in cases that it's had since the start of the pandemic, but "we're not quite there," said Dr. Bratzler.
On January 10, 2021 Oklahoma had 6,487 cases reported in a single day. Nearly one year later, on January 7, 2022, Oklahoma had 6,438 new daily cases reported. That's a difference of just 49 cases. The number of cases also might be drastically lower than what's reported, added Dr. Bratzler, because many people are using at-home rapid tests. None of those are reported to the health department.