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Omicron surge may be peaking in Shelby County

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 4:45 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The latest data from the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) shows the average number of new COVID-19 cases has declined for the second week in a row.

The seven-day average of new cases fell under 2,000 Monday for the first time in two weeks.

Does it mean the omicron variant has peaked or is beginning to peak in Shelby County?

“Once you start seeing averages for a couple of weeks in a row decline, it probably really is what we had hoped and expected to see, and that is the cases really are probably beginning to peak,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist with Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis.

Threlkeld says he’s also seen anecdotal evidence that omicron may be peaking.

“I’m getting fewer phone calls from friends and relatives and healthcare workers who are having infections and family infected,” said Threlkeld. “All of that sort of bodes well, I think, for what we’re going to see over the next couple of weeks.”

Omicron has peaked in other parts of the world, like South Africa, where scientists first detected the variant.

Early evidence suggests the variant may have also peaked in the U.K. and parts of the U.S. But Threlkeld says it is not time to declare victory or throw caution to the wind.

He says many people remain hospitalized with COVID-19, including many in the ICU.

“Most of those people landing in the hospital and the ICUs are those folks that are at really the highest risk, but there’s still a lot of cases,” said Threlkeld. “I think we have to be a little bit more careful as we see these numbers continue to come down.”

He says hospitalizations remain an important number to watch because if the health care system becomes overwhelmed, it impacts everybody.

But he hopes hospitalization will start to fall. He says those numbers usually lag behind new cases by about a week.

Staffing has also been an issue for many hospitals amid the omicron wave.

As of Monday, there are still more than 25,000 active cases in Shelby County, including over 6,700 active cases among children, according to SCHD.

More than 2,800 people have died from COVID-19 in Shelby County since the pandemic began, according to the health department.

Threlkeld says he is optimistic about 2022.

“But we have to be careful. There could be variants out there that might arise that would really take us back six months and really turn back the protection that we have had,” he said.

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