The U.K. variant of COVID-19, which early research indicates causes more severe symptoms and spreads faster than the original, is present throughout most of the city of Houston, new data finds.

The Houston Health Department has been tracking COVID-19’s presence in the city’s wastewater to help identify where it is most prevalent and recently began studying the genetic makeup of the virus samples, Houston Emergency Medical Director Dr. David Persse told reporters March 8.

Preliminary data shows that as of Feb. 22, the U.K. variant made up 19% of the total amount of COVID-19 virus present in the city. That number, however, does not mean that 19% of individuals infected with the virus had the U.K. variant because the amount of virus present in an individual person varies, Persse said.

The main concern among local health officials now, he said, is getting vaccinations distributed more quickly.

“To some degree the race is on to get as many people vaccinated as possible to prevent another surge,” Persse said.

The city reported a test positivity rate of 13.1%, up from 11% a week earlier. There were also 318 new cases and six new deaths as of March 8.

“That just points to the added importance of being tested and getting vaccinated,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Currently only those in the state's Phase 1A and 1B vaccine priority list as well as teachers and child care workers are eligible to receive the vaccine. The Phase 1A and 1B categories include those over the age of 65 and those with chronic health conditions. Sign up for the city's waitlist here. Eligible residents can also call and sign up for the waitlist through the Area Agency on Aging at 832-393-4301 or the Mayor’s Office of Disabilities at 832-393-5500. For general information, call 832-393-4220.