Austin Public Health eyes movement of omicron variant, but has yet to detect a case

The World Health Organization listed the omicron variant as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26. The variant was first reported in South Africa. (Courtesy Travis County)
The World Health Organization listed the omicron variant as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26. The variant was first reported in South Africa. (Courtesy Travis County)

The World Health Organization listed the omicron variant as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26. The variant was first reported in South Africa. (Courtesy Travis County)

Austin Public Health officials have yet to identify a case of the COVID-19 omicron variant, but are considering the variant’s potential locally, said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, on Nov. 30.

The World Health Organization identified the new variant, which was first reported in South Africa, as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement the same day saying the variant had not yet been found in the United States.

“The assumption is that there already are those who have this variant in our community in the United States, but we’ve not identified that yet,” Walkes said. “Just as we initially had the delta variant, or U.K. variant, before that, and the original strain from Wuhan before that, so it's still the same measures that we've been using all along to protect ourselves.”

Walkes added that it is unknown how vaccines will work against the variant, but reports from South Africa suggest that cases involving a vaccinated person infected with the omicron variant appear to be mild.

The Travis County-Austin area will also remain in Stage 3, despite the seven-day moving average of new hospitalizations being within the Stage 2 threshold since Oct. 26. Walkes said the community will remain in Stage 3 because of the virus’ high transmission rate in recent weeks and rising cases throughout the rest of the country. The Austin-Travis County area transmission rate is 36.7 cases per 100,000, compared to 156 cases per 100,000 nationwide, according to the APH dashboard.


“When those numbers continue to trend downward, then recommendations could be made for moving into a lower stage, but at this point, particularly given our current notice of the new variant, the omicron variant, we're being cautious about moving our staging downward and relaxing those recommendations for masking indoors in public places,” Walkes added.
By Benton Graham

Metro Reporter, Austin

Benton joined Community Impact Newspaper as a metro reporter covering transportation in Central Texas in June 2021. Benton's writing has appeared in Vox, The Austin Chronicle, Austonia and Reporting Texas. Originally from Minneapolis, Benton graduated from William & Mary and eventually moved to Austin in 2018.