HOUSTON (KIAH) – The Houston Health Department detects the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 in Houston’s wastewater. This is Houston’s first contact with the new variant.

Dr. Wesley Long, the Medical Director of Diagnostic Microbiology confirms on Twitter there’s a total of eight cases of the omicron variant at Houston Methodist. Dr. Long said these were detected from samples in early December. 

He also said on Twitter, “We remain in hypervigilant mode. Our outstanding team is sequencing samples as rapidly as possible to uncover additional omicron cases.” 

Through genetic sequencing tests conducted this week, the Texas Department of State Health Services confirms a Houston-area woman with COVID-19 is carrying the omicron variant.

Wastewater samples collected in Houston on Nov. 29 and 30 showed omicron at eight of the city’s 39 wastewater treatment plants. The health department routinely tests the city’s wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19, including variants, and recently started testing samples for omicron.

The reason is, people infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their feces. The wastewater data is a faster way to identify emerging outbreaks and hotspots needing interventions to help stop the spread of the virus.

Medical professionals say the omicron variant is cause for concern but people should not panic. Officials say they will continue to urge Texans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and seek other protection, including wearing masks.

Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston has a message for residents, “Vaccines help protect us, our loved ones, friends, and colleagues in the work environment. as the holidays approach, I encourage everyone to remain vigilant about their health and safety.”

Federal health officials are conducting studies on whether omicron is more transmissible, causes more serious illness, or evades vaccine protection compared to other variants of the virus. results are expected in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, The health department offers any dose of all COVID-19 vaccines to all eligible ages 5 and older at its vaccination sites. Vaccination is free and does not require proof of residency.

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