Omicron Variant of COVID-19 Confirmed in Lehigh Valley Cases

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OMICRON

Officials with St. Luke’s University Health Network announced Thursday that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in two cases in the Lehigh Valley.

The health network said in a news release that two cases of the disease caused by the newest variant were confirmed Thursday, and that “at least 30 other cases are suspicious and under review, and likely account for a portion of recent breakthrough cases.”

“This is another reason to strongly consider getting a booster shot, or to be immunized if you haven’t already,” said Jeffrey Jahre, MD, St. Luke’s Senior Vice President of Medical & Academic Affairs and Section Chief Emeritus of Infectious Diseases.

Last week, St. Luke’s officials announced new pandemic-related restrictions on hospital visitations which they said are due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the area.

Saucon Source reported Wednesday that hospitals in Northampton County haven’t reported less capacity in their intensive care units since reporting of that statistic began in September 2020, about six months after the start of the pandemic.

As of Wednesday, 97 percent–or 64 out of 65–of the ICU beds in the county were occupied, with 14 occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Also on Wednesday, Lehigh University’s COVID Response Team announced that the school will likely require booster vaccination shots for students, faculty and staff once classes resume in Bethlehem in late January.

Cases of COVID-19 linked to the Omicron variant–which was first identified in Africa in November–have now been confirmed in 36 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Due to the newness of the variant, many questions about it remain unanswered, however officials with the CDC say it will likey spread more easily than the original strain of COVID-19. Whether it spreads more easily than the highly-transmissable and still-dominant Delta strain “remains unknown,” according to the “Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know” page on the CDC website.

“Vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging,” the site states.

In Northampton County, approximately 62 percent of residents were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, while in Lehigh County the number was approximately 66 percent.

Both counties are currently reporting new COVID case numbers approaching their record totals of a year ago, which were set just before the first vaccines became available.

For more information about vaccinations, boosters and the response to COVID in Pennsylvania, visit CovidActNow and the Department of Health’s COVID website.

The CDC site also has information about boosters.

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