The COVID-19 omicron variant is likely already spreading in Houston. Here’s How We Know – Houston Public Media – Community News
Covid-19

The COVID-19 omicron variant is likely already spreading in Houston. Here’s How We Know – Houston Public Media

A health worker processes people waiting in line at a United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site on Thursday, November 19, 2020 in Houston.

On Monday evening, a woman in her 40s in northwest Harris County was confirmed to have tested positive for the COVID-19 omicron variant. She had no recent travel history, which local health leaders say points to spreading in the community.

Later that evening, Houston’s health department confirmed it had identified the variant in the city’s wastewater. And on Tuesday, the department revealed that the variant was found in eight of 39 samples from wastewater treatment plants.

All of this suggests that omicron is not only community-based, but also common and widespread, health experts say.

And that means we’ll likely see an increase in hospitalizations soon, according to the Houston Health Authority, Dr. David Persse.

“We’ve seen a small increase in the total amount of virus in the wastewater, so that would suggest to us that we’re likely to see more hospitalizations for patients with COVID in about two weeks,” he said.

The first confirmed case of ommicron in Houston was identified Monday, confirmed on Twitter by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. The woman who tested positive had been vaccinated and did not require hospitalization. Harris County Public Health and the Texas Department of State Health Services said in a press release they are investigating the matter.

The ommicron variant, which was first identified by scientists in South Africa, first showed up in the US in California. That person had been vaccinated, had returned from a trip to South Africa. The Louisiana Department of Public Health identified his first case of ommicron on December 3 in a person who had traveled within the US

There’s a lot about the Omicron variant that’s still unknown, Persse said. The two things to worry about with any new COVID-19 strain are how quickly it spreads and how sick it makes people.

Ultimately, Persse said that COVID-19 and new variants will be less of a part of people’s daily lives. Infection waves become less intense and the virus fades into the background like other infectious diseases in the past.

It can take years to get to that point.

“Eventually we will get there,” said Persse. “Whether that’s one year, two years, three years, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Since the omicron variant is known to spread rapidly, it’s no surprise that it has been found in Harris County, said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS Commissioner. In a press release, Hellerstedt said vaccination is the best protection against serious illness and death from a variant COVID-19.

“Anyone 5 years and older is eligible for vaccination,” Hellerstedt said. “Anyone 18 and older should receive a booster shot if they qualify.”

While some epidemiologists in South Africa report milder cases of Omicron, Persse said people in the US who have not been vaccinated and not previously infected with the virus may be at risk. Most of the South African population has been infected before, which Persse says could protect them from serious illness when re-infected with Omicron.

As mild as the symptoms are, hospitals can still be overwhelmed if the omicron variant delta, the predominant strain in the US, overcomes

Omicron spreads quickly, so it can infect even more people than the Delta variant. If a large percentage of the population becomes infected with the new variant, more people could end up in hospital than the already full hospitals can handle.

“The number of cases will increase,” says Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital. “Will (omicron) delta catch up here in Texas? It’s hard to say. Delta has been the king of all variants. In terms of portability, it’s hard to imagine how anything could catch up.”

Hotez’s concern is shared by many health experts, who are more concerned about delta. Hotez called omicron his “second biggest concern” behind the ongoing delta wave in Texas.

“I mean, what could be worse than the fact that as of June 1, we have 20,000 unvaccinated Texans who have needlessly lost their lives through resistance and vaccine refusal?” said Hotez. “When I think of things that keep me up at night, it’s the next wave of the delta variant. So I think that’s one of those things to keep things in perspective. We’ve done a terrible job vaccinating the state of Texas .”

Matt Harab contributed to reporting

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