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A masked UW-Eau Claire student rode a city of Eau Claire bus in May with few other passengers. The current wave of COVID-19, driven by the omicron variant, is expected to ease later this month, local officials said, but they don’t know how quickly that drop in cases will happen.

EAU CLAIRE — The peak of the current wave of COVID-19 caused by the highly-transmissible omicron strain is expected to come sometime this month, but how quickly case numbers will drop is hard to predict, local health officials say.

In the Eau Claire City-County Health Department’s first online news conference of 2022, Director Lieske Giese said there were 1,487 new cases of coronavirus reported in the past seven days, an average of 212 per day.

“That’s double what we had last week and triple what we had the week before,” she said. “This is our highest number of cases per seven-day period ever in the pandemic.”

While the delta variant was responsible for the virus spreading during fall, the omicron strain is seen as causing the current wave of cases in Wisconsin and nationwide.

The latest tests that determine which strains are spreading indicated around 82% of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin are omicron, Giese said.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control showed that in the Midwest, the omicron variant was found to be 97% of COVID-19 test samples last week. A month before that omicron only accounted for 5% in the region while the delta variant still dominated in early December.

Where omicron has differed from other strains of COVID-19 is how easily it spreads, even if its effects aren’t as severe as other variants.

Dr. Muhanad Mohamed of Mayo Clinic Health System, who advises the local Health Department on communicable diseases, said the volume of COVID-19 patients has put a strain on local hospitals.

“Definitely this wave is more significant as other waves we’ve encountered here,” he said.

Coupled with medical workers who stay home due to illness, he said the volume of COVID-19 patients has pushed local health facilities at or near capacity.

Mohamed and Giese repeated pleas to individuals to get vaccinated, wash hands frequently, maintain social distance and stay home if you feel ill or are awaiting COVID-19 test results.

There are projections that the wave of COVID-19 cases caused by omicron could soon be at its peak.

National medical experts quoted in an Associated Press article this week cited two different models indicating cases will be going down. A University of Washington model is predicting new reported cases of omicron in the U.S. will peak next week and fall sharply while the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium predicted the peak is this week.

Local health experts aren’t declaring that the Eau Claire area has reached the top of the omicron wave yet.

“We know that we are on the upside of the curve,” Giese said. “The models we are watching are predicting the peak will be a couple weeks out.”

Mohamed agreed that is appears case numbers are forecast to top out in late January, but said it’s more difficult to predict how quickly they will go down.

“However it’s not very clear for how long it will take to decline,” he said.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter