After months of relative calm, health officials say the anticipated summer surge of COVID-19 has arrived in Knox County.

In late May, county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart said residents should prepare for a “mini surge,” as a wave of new cases appeared to be moving from north to south across the state.

During winter’ omicron surge, it was Indiana’s northern counties that were hit hardest first before the virus spread further south, leading to a dramatic increase in January cases across the state, and the highest average death rate coming in February.

Though new cases of the virus remain relatively low compared to the January wave, the spread of the highly contagious BA.2, BA.4, and BA.5 variants have sparked a significant increase in cases over the past few weeks.

“We’re seeing an increase in our number of cases — about 30 new cases every two days,” Stewart said, adding, too, that the county is likely experiencing much more of the virus than what is being reported.

“The numbers are so difficult to track because of the availability of home tests, so the number of actual cases probably exceeds that figure significantly.”

Though efficient and convenient, home testing kit results are not reported to the Indiana Department of Health and therefore are not recorded as part of the county’s number of active cases.

Still, numbers are clearly trending up.

Four weeks ago, Knox County was averaging just under four cases per day. Now the county is seeing more than double that number.

Stewart says the highly contagious variants that continue to emerge fuel these surges.

“It’s behaving like a perfect virus, meaning the variants are very contagious but somewhat less virulent.

“The mutations in these variants are also able to skirt the vaccines somewhat,” he said.

Just last month in Indiana the dominant strain of the virus was BA.2, which was even slightly more contagious than Omicron. But now, Stewart says, what we’re likely facing is BA.4 and BA.5.

“It’s hard to imagine just how contagious these are — they look to be at least as contagious as the measles, if not more so,” he said.

That, Stewart noted, is alarming, because the measles has long been the most contagious disease known to humankind.

Though current variants appear to be less deadly, medical studies examining the long-term side effects of COVID continue to be released, highlighting just how life-altering the virus can be, even in instances of mild cases of infection.
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