AUSTIN, Texas — It was just a matter of time. The City of Austin on Monday announced the University of Texas at Austin Health Services has notified Austin Public Health about three probable cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant in the Austin-Travis County region.
The lab results still need to be confirmed by genetic sequencing, which will take a few days, a news release stated.
The three people who tested positive for omicron have not traveled internationally, leading health officials to believe community transmission of the variant is occurring in Austin-Travis Co.
“Our community learned first-hand the dangers new variants can pose. The delta variant arrived in the summer and is still in our community. Now we have the omicron variant,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “Our mission and our approach remain the same. Get vaccinated, get boosters, stay home if you are sick, wear your masks to protect yourself, your loved ones, and our hospital systems from this virus.”
Health officials have noted that omicron appears to be highly transmissible but, while more data is needed, symptoms may not be as severe as those associated with delta. Last week two cases of the omicron variant were confirmed in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and one was confirmed in Harris County.
"It was inevitable that the omicron variant would arrive in Austin, and we are closely following the data to understand how this new variant will impact our community and hospital system as we continue to fight the delta variant," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. "As we prepare to spend time with loved ones this holiday season, it is now more important than ever to get the vaccine and your booster shots. And it’s always best to wear masks indoors if you’re around unvaccinated people."
Omicron symptoms are largely the same as other COVID-19 variants and include cough, congestion, runny nose and fatigue.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before the omicron variant would reach Travis County. I am confident our community will step up and do what is necessary to mitigate any potential surge,” said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. “In the meantime, I encourage everyone to get fully vaccinated and boosted six months after your second dose. And until our Health Authority says otherwise, you are encouraged to wear a mask as recommended by the risk-based guidelines.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data is very limited and the agency is working on a more detailed analysis of what the new mutant form of the coronavirus might hold for the U.S.
“What we generally know is the more mutations a variant has, the higher level you need your immunity to be. ... We want to make sure we bolster everybody’s immunity. And that’s really what motivated the decision to expand our guidance,” Walensky said, referencing the recent approval of boosters for all adults.
She said “the disease is mild” in almost all of the cases seen so far.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.