Officials in Louisville have confirmed the first case of the new COVID-19 omicron strain – a 26-year-old resident who was fully vaccinated in February but who had not received a booster shot.
The resident tested positive for COVID earlier this month, but sequencing on Monday confirmed it was the new strain.
Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage, associate medical director at the Louisville Metro Department for Public Health and Wellness, said it’s likely that there are other undetected omicron cases and expects the number to rise in the coming weeks.
“We believe that she acquired it locally, which suggests that the omicron variant is circulating here already,” Hartlage said. “And I think those of us who follow these things are certainly of the belief that it’s been here for a couple of weeks, we are just now getting confirmatory labs.”
The announcement comes days after Gov. Andy Beshear confirmed Friday the state’s first cases; they’ve since been found in at least four Kentucky counties.
Mayor Greg Fischer said that while the new strain isn’t yet known to be more severe, it is more transmissible than the highly contagious delta variant and he expects it will soon surpass the previous strain.
“It’s been a little slow to get to Louisville but it’s with us right now and its replicability is very, very fast,” the mayor said. “So soon, within a couple of weeks, it will be the dominant strain here in our city.”
Officials urged continued vaccinations and boosters, as both Pfizer and Moderna have now announced that boosters can help prevent serious illness or hospitalizations.
But city leaders warned that if it is that much more transmissible, it can still mean a larger number of unvaccinated people who can get seriously ill.
Health officials also worry that the arrival of omicron will strain hospital ICUs which were already seeing a surge of new cases.
Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor with University of Louisville Health said there are currently more than 70 COVID patients across the hospital system, which is double the number from mid-November.
Jefferson County is still in the red COVID zone with an average incidence rate of around 38 cases per 100,000 residents. But that’s an average of the previous week and is expected to go up as daily numbers have recently hit 50 or more cases per 100,000.
The state considers the red zone to be 25 cases per 100,000 residents or above.
Jefferson County had 2,045 new cases last week and 45 new deaths.