HOUSTON – Genomic sequencing conducted in the Houston Health Department laboratory confirms the Omicron variant caused two additional area cases of COVID-19, further validating community spread.
Results confirming Houston’s first two Omicron cases were received Thursday evening from diagnostic test samples collected on December 1, 2021. The cases are a female in her 20s and a male in his 30s; the cases don’t have a history of recent travel.
A local hospital and two other area health departments confirmed omicron variant cases earlier this week.
Not all COVID-19 test specimens undergo genomic sequencing, so there is not a comprehensive count of confirmed variant cases. Currently, the Delta variant remains the predominant strain in Houston, accounting for more than 99 percent of samples that are sequenced.
“Omicron in Houston is expected, and we should remain cautious but not panic as more cases are inevitably identified,” said Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston. “As we await scientific data about Omicron’s threat, we know that vaccination, including booster shots, is our best tool to prevent serious illness from COVID-19.”
On Monday evening, the health department detected the Omicron variant in Houston’s wastewater, the first indication the variant was present in the city. The wastewater samples, collected on November 29-30, showed Omicron at eight of the city’s 39 wastewater treatment plants.
“It is clear Omicron has been in Houston since at least November 29 based on wastewater sampling, but it was likely here sooner” said Dr. Persse. “This timeline is remarkable since South Africa’s rise in cases began the week of November 13 and the World Health Organization identified it as a variant of concern on November 24.”
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. Results are expected in coming weeks.
Use of face coverings in crowded indoor settings is recommended to help protect against COVID-19 and its variants.
“If you are not yet fully vaccinated, or eligible for a booster, please do it now to help protect yourself, your family, and our community,” said Dr. Persse.
The health department offers all doses of COVID-19 vaccines to eligible people (ages 5+) at its vaccination sites. Vaccination is free and does not require proof of residency.
A list of health department vaccination sites is available at houstonhealth.org or by calling 832-393-4220. Vaccine is also readily available at pharmacies and doctor offices.