1st Texas case of omicron variant reported in Houston area

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Houston-area woman has been confirmed as having the first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Texas, state health officials reported Monday.

Genetic sequencing tests this week showed that the Harris County woman’s recent COVID-19 case was the omicron variant, according to a statement from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The woman is in her 40s and had no recent travel history, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Monday on social media. No other information on the woman and her case was reported.

Dr. John Hellerstedt, a DSHS commissioner, said the variant’s arrival in Texas was unsurprising.

“It’s normal for viruses to mutate, and given how quickly omicron spread in southern Africa, we’re not surprised that it showed up here,” Hellerstedt said.

“Getting vaccinated and continuing to use prevention strategies, including wearing a mask when you are around people you don’t live with, social distancing, handwashing and getting tested when you have symptoms, will help slow the spread of the virus and help end the pandemic,” he said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his aides did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The Republican governor has refused so far to mandate any protective measures against COVID-19 and has forbidden state or local government entities from imposing their own mandates.

As of Monday, almost 65% of the Texas population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 55% have been fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is well below the national average of 71% receiving at least one dose and 60% being fully vaccinated.

Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how quickly it will spread.

Scientists point to what’s happening in South Africa, where omicron was first detected. Omicron’s speed in infecting people and achieving near dominance in South Africa has health experts worried that the country is at the start of a new wave that may overwhelm hospitals.

But U.S. health officials said Sunday that while the omicron variant is rapidly spreading throughout the country, early indications suggest it may be less dangerous than delta, which continues to drive a surge of hospitalizations.