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First cases of omicron variant identified in Bexar County

UT Health San Antonio conducted the genome testing and confirmed two cases of the omicron variant have been identified in Bexar County.

SAN ANTONIO — UT Health San Antonio scientists confirmed Monday the omicron Coronavirus variant is present in San Antonio. 

Researchers identified Bexar County's first two cases in samples collected on Nov. 27 and Dec. 7. The World Health Organization declared omicron a 'variant of concern' on Nov. 26. 

"We can't just shrug our shoulders and get used to being in a pandemic," said Dr. Marjorie David, director of the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory at UT Health San Antonio. "We just need to adopt a bit more stringent plans for interacting with folks."

The variant's arrival does not come as a surprise. San Antonio's public health authority, Metro Health, continues to encourage vaccination as the best defense against COVID-19. 

Preliminary omicron data indicates the newer variant spreads faster than Delta, which is more contagious than Chickenpox. It's not clear just how infectious omicron is. 

The World Health Organization says omicron is likely to become the nation's dominant Coronavirus strain. 

"The good news is that we had very early warning of this," said Dr. Brian Alsip, Chief Medical Officer at University Health. "What we know has worked for Delta and the previous variants seems to be working well for omicron." 

Alsip notes that early omicron infections in other countries produced mild symptoms. Preliminary research indicates the variant may be less deadly than the Delta iteration of COVID-19. 

But scientists will need more time to answer the most pressing questions about the variant, including how severe omicron infections can become. 

"The data on severity is not sufficient enough yet to be making any calls on that particular question," David said. "We don't know, so let's just keep our ears perked, continue to be cautious, and await more data." 

Both doctors tell their patients to mask around people who are not part of their households. Each urgently recommended a booster shot. 

Last week, Bexar County health officials increased the local coronavirus risk level from low to mild for the first time since early November—and local health authorities say the risk level is worsening.

omicron is the most recent variant of COVID-19 which has been identified. It was previously detected in the greater Houston and Dallas areas, as well as in 30 other states, according to the Centers for Disease Control.