Elected and public health officials in San Antonio encourage the public to take precautions after Metro Health reported a three-fold increase in COVID-19 cases, with most new positive infections attributed to the omicron variant.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the highly contagious omicron variant accounted for 25% of cases statewide the week of Dec. 11. One week later, the number of omicron-related cases rose to 85% statewide.

TDSHS confirmed 123 new probable COVID-19 cases in Bexar County Dec. 27. The first confirmed cases of omicron in San Antonio were announced by local authorities Dec. 13. Metro Health’s COVID-19 data, last updated Dec. 23, show approximately 200 infected people hospitalized locally with 77 in intensive care and 44 on ventilators.

“The omicron variant is responsible for the expected increase in daily cases we are seeing. This variant is highly transmissible, but we can all do our part to contain its spread,” Metro Health Director Claude Jacob said in a statement.

Dr. Marjorie David, a local molecular genetic pathologist, used her Twitter account Dec. 30 to express alarm at the current spike in COVID-19 infections.

"[On Dec. 29,] 31.5% of our clinical COVID[-19] tests were positive in our lab here in San Antonio. We have never had a time period with a positivity rate this high in previous surges. This surge is different. Please wear a mask and get your booster shots," David said.

Some businesses and government agencies have taken advantage of the holiday season by temporarily closing publicly accessible buildings to minimize employee and visitor exposure during the rise in COVID-19 cases. Windcrest City Hall, including the town’s post office space, is closed until Jan. 3, according to a city Facebook post.

The owners of Meadow Neighborhood + Eatery is closed “due to the rise in COVID[-19] cases and a positive test of a team member,” according to a Facebook post. Owners of the Hill Country Village restaurant said they were contacting patrons who reserved to dine there on New Year’s Eve.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg offered words of vigilance for people planning to celebrate the new year.

“The omicron variant is spreading in our community, but we have the necessary tools to fight the virus and ring in 2022 in a safer way,” Nirenberg said in a statement. “Get vaccinated, get your booster shot and mask up. If you’re planning to meet up with those outside your household, consider using a self-test or getting tested. By practicing these tried-and-true health measures, we can all kick off 2022 in a safer way.”

Metro Health updated its latest health advisory recommendations based on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding isolation and quarantine periods for individuals exposed to COVID-19. Asymptomatic people are shortened to five days, followed by five days of mask-wearing in shared public spaces.

Additionally, Metro Health is providing tips for individuals who will be gathering with family and friends over New Year's weekend.

Such safety measures include being vaccinated against the virus, getting tested, wearing a well-fitting mask, staying home when sick sick and celebrating in well-ventilated or outdoor spaces, Metro Health said.

“As we prepare to celebrate the new year, we ask that Bexar County residents exercise caution to avoid infection from the coronavirus and help prevent spreading it to others,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in a statement. “All of us must be on guard now that omicron is the dominant variant in the community.”

Jacob emphasized the importance of getting fully vaccinated to help prevent infection or to at least minimize symptoms if infection occurs.

“Get a booster dose if you are eligible. Getting vaccinated can help prevent serious illness or hospitalization, and people who have breakthrough cases are much more likely to only have mild or no symptoms,” he added.

Wolff and Nirenberg were invited to join University Health officials in a Dec. 31 press conference to discuss the latest spike in COVID-19 cases and how that is affecting local hospitals.

in a news release, University Health leaders said an influx of people experiencing even mild symptoms is compacting efforts to help non-COVID-19 patients visiting UH emergency rooms citywide.

"We know many people become anxious if they test positive for COVID-19 or develop symptoms and want to be tested. It is urgent that people only come to the ER for a true emergency," the release said. "Those who develop COVID-19 symptoms should contact their primary care provider or check the City of San Antonio’s website for testing locations, and monitor and manage their symptoms at home. Their doctor’s office can also provide instructions on what to do if their symptoms worsen."

Metro Health also stresses the importance of testing and what to do when you get tested. Local authorities said individuals planning to take part in indoor gatherings this holiday week should self-test themselves before activities.

Authorities say people who have not received their test results and were exposed to a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 should stay home.

A positive self-test result means the infected person should avoid indoor gatherings. A negative self-test result means a person may not have an infection, but repeating the test within 24 hours of the last test will raise the confidence in not being infected.

Pharmacies and grocery stores that carry at-home COVID-19 tests and testing sites have reported high demand from people who have been taking part in holiday season festivities. Many stores have reported running out of self-test kits.

“Metro Health also recommends everyone wear a mask regardless of your vaccination status,” Jacob said. “It can’t be stressed enough that if you are feeling ill, even if you think it’s just allergies, stay home and get tested.”

Free public testing sites as well as city-run vaccination clinics are listed at www.covid19.sanantonio.gov.

“The city of San Antonio operates several free test sites and vaccination clinics in the community,” City Manager Erik Walsh said. “We are monitoring the conditions closely and will continue to follow the best practices set by the CDC and Metro Health. If you need assistance accessing test or vaccine services, please call 311, option 8. Let’s all have a safe start to the new year.”

Metro Health’s Alamodome Drive-Thru Clinic was scheduled to be open until 8 p.m. Dec. 30, closed Dec. 31 and then open again noon to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays.