Williamson County confirms first case of omicron COVID-19 variant

Williamson County

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Someone living in Williamson County caught the omicron variant of COVID-19, health experts confirmed Monday.

The Williamson County and Cities Health District reported that lab testing officially confirmed the first case. The department did not share any further information about the patient, including whether the person traveled recently or had been vaccinated.

Instead, the county’s health leaders urged people to test before traveling for the upcoming Christmas holiday as well as get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.

“Vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission, and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging,” Dr. Amanda Norwood, the local health authority and WCCHD Medical Director, said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Everyone five years and older are encouraged to protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated, and everyone ages 16 years and older should get a booster shot when eligible.”

A number of local entities are providing resources to make it easier for people to get tested for the coronavirus.

Scientists are still studying what kinds of effects an infection from the omicron variant cause. However, it’s believed to be much more easily spread than other variants. Symptoms include cough, congestion, runny nose and fatigue — the same as other COVID-19 variants.

In Travis County, three members of the University of Texas at Austin community likely became infected by the omicron variant, though further testing is still underway to confirm that. University health officials said they suspect that omicron may be behind a sharp increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases connected to the campus.

“This disease now really reflects what we’re seeing in the community, and based on the info, we suspect we might have omicron in the community,” Dr. Amy Young, the chief clinical officer at Dell Medical School, told KXAN. “We’re able to detect it, because we’re looking for it, but it really affects what is going on in the background.”

Researchers working at UT Austin are predicting that this new variant “could lead to the largest health care surge to date, unless measures are taken to slow spread,” a newly-released report found. The UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium examined a number of scenarios and how those could affect health care facilities given the unknowns about the omicron variant.

Health experts keep saying a booster shot will help improve people’s ability to fend off the worst effects of COVID-19. The two major vaccine makes, Moderna and Pfizer, released their own data that they said shows their boosters should offer the best protection against the widely-spreading omicron variant. Moderna said Monday that lab tests showed the half-dose booster shot increased by 37 times the level of so-called neutralizing antibodies able to fight omicron. Meanwhile, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said lab tests showed a booster dose increased by 25-fold the level of so-called neutralizing antibodies against omicron.

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