On Monday night, the Houston Health Department reported that the COVID-19 omicron variant has been detected in 8 of Houston's 39 wastewater treatment plants. "We should use this information as a reminder to get fully vaccinated, including a booster shot," Mayor Sylvester Turner stated in a release.
Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston said in a statement that the variant is "cause for concern, but not panic." A representative from the Houston Health Department seconded that in an emailed statement to Houstonian, "Health officials and the scientific community are researching whether omicron is more transmissible, causes more serious illness, or evades vaccine protection compared to other variants.
COVID-19 surveillance through testing, contact tracing, and wastewater sampling helps guide the department’s testing, vaccination, and educational efforts. These interventions help stop the spread of the virus."
That's sobering news, but the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) also on Monday, confirmed the first case of the variant in Harris County. According to Judge Lina Hidalgo, a 40-year-old woman from North Houston, who had not done any travel recently, was found to have the omicron variant.
Dr. Wesley Long, Director of Diagnostic Microbiology at Houston Methodist said in a blog post, "Omicron was identified and reported earlier than other variants of concern, namely Alpha and Delta, and it's still too early to predict how it will behave."
More information should arrive in the coming weeks about what the public is up against with the new variant. But health officials are saying it may be less severe than other variants.
Local health experts in Houston, however, say that wearing a mask and getting vaccinated is still the best way to keep yourself and others safe from COVID-19 and its variants.
For a list of places to receive a COVID vaccination or a booster shot, visit http://www.houstontx.gov/health/.