It’s still a big problem, in case we haven’t forgotten.
Omicron’s arrival in the U.S. came as no surprise to federal health officials and will be met with similar anticipation in Texas, where experts believe it could show up in state and local sequencing efforts as soon as this week.
“It’s almost certainly here,” said Dr. Benjamin Neuman, a Texas A&M University professor and chief virologist at its Global Health Research Complex, which does sequencing for COVID-19 variants.
On Monday, federal health officials concerned about omicron urged eligible vaccinated adults to get their booster shots to increase their protection from COVID-19, in whatever form it might take over the winter, and to keep masking, hand-washing and social distancing when possible.
In Texas, state health officials say they are ready to assist hospitals should another surge happen over the holidays and they are ramping up their own efforts to identify more variants in more parts of the state.
But their largest push, at least publicly, is for vaccination and booster shots. About 55% of Texans were fully vaccinated as of Dec. 1. Some 18.7% of fully vaccinated Texans have had boosters, according to state health numbers.
“Prevention is important, and vaccination remains our best prevention tool,” said Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Texas hospitals are still in the throes of a staffing shortage after almost two years of deadly surges and a summer wave of deaths and hospitalizations that saw record numbers of ICUs filled to capacity.
With more than 13 million Texans still not fully vaccinated, the fear of the medical community here is that another wave will further strain a health care system that is already exhausted and depleted.
At the moment, without more data about omicron, delta is still the variant likely to cause the most problems this winter, Neuman said.
“Today, it’s the delta wave that worries me. Not omicron yet,” Neuman said. “We’ve got to wait and see what omicron does, if anything. But with cases rising across the country — that’s entirely being driven by delta.”
There’s some interesting stuff in the article about how scientists in Texas are tracking different variants here – did you know there was such a thing as the Texas Variant Partnership? I didn’t – so read on. Everything I’ve read about omicron so far suggests it will be a couple of weeks before we have some real data on it, which will help us understand basic questions about how transmissible it is, how deadly it is, and so on. A huge question, especially in a still largely unvaccinated state like Texas is how much protection is natural immunity versus vaccination. I’m betting on the latter, but it’s certainly a possibility that another booster may need to be developed. Which, thanks to the nature of mRNA vaccines, can be done quickly, like three to four months. In the meantime, stay cautious and for crying out loud get your shots.