AUSTIN — As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread in Texas, state officials ask residents to remain vigilant against the disease.
The omicron variant first appeared in Texas on Dec. 6. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 90% of all positive cases in the region are caused by the variant.
And at least one person, an unvaccinated man in his 50s, is reported to have died from the new variant on Dec. 20 in Harris County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“This is a reminder of the severity of COVID-19 and its variants. We urge all residents who qualify to get vaccinated and get their booster shot if they have not already,” said Barbie Robinson, Harris County Public Health executive director.
Much remains unknown about the omicron variant including whether it causes more severe illnesses or is more deadly. However, studies suggest that those vaccinated, especially those who have received a booster shot, are in the best position to prevent infection and hospitalization.
Nonetheless, experts believe the variant is highly transmissible and officials have recorded many breakthrough cases among the vaccinated.
“All of us have a date with omicron,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated.”
COVID cases overall continue to rise in Texas, as state officials reported nearly 9,000 new confirmed cases on Dec. 20. In early November, the state was reporting around 3,000 confirmed new cases per day, according to state data.
While reported deaths remain low, state health officials urge Texans to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible, if eligible, to increase protection against the virus.
“Vaccination is proven to reduce hospitalizations, severe illness and death and is our best weapon to use against COVID-19 and its variants, like Omicron,” Douglas Loveday, DSHS press officer said.
Loveday added that the DSHS continues to encourage individuals to continue to use proven measures to reduce the spread of the disease such as wearing a mask, social distancing, improving ventilation and washing hands frequently, as well as getting tested before meeting with friends and family.
While the surge spreads nationwide, President Joseph Biden reiterated Tuesday that “we should all be concerned about omicron, but not panicked.”
He also directed his White House staff to prepare 1,000 military medical professionals to be ready to help when needed. The White House is also purchasing 500 million rapid COVID tests to be distributed to the public for free beginning in January.
“This is not March of 2020,” he said. “Two hundred million people are vaccinated. We’re prepared; we know more.”
AP News contributed to this report.