AUSTIN, Texas — On Tuesday, Dec. 21, during its weekly COVID-19 update, Austin Public Health officially confirmed that community transmission is present in the Austin area, stating that three previously reported "likely" cases are now officially linked to the omicron variant.
Local health officials said the individuals who tested positive did not travel internationally. The three people who tested positive also are not linked to one another.
"What that tells me is we have community transmission of omicron right now, and it is quickly taking over delta cases in our community," said Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette on Dec. 21. "And so this is all the more important reason why we need to be extra careful during this holiday season."
Local health officials first reported the three likely cases of the variant on Dec. 13, just hours after Austin Mayor Steve Adler told KVUE Daybreak it was a matter of when, not if, omicron would be detected in Austin-Travis County.
These were the first reported cases of omicron in Austin. The variant was first reported in Texas on Dec. 6.
The three cases are from members of the University of Texas, the university said on Dec. 13.
Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority, said the individuals were vaccinated but did not get boosters. She also said the three were in isolation although their symptoms were not serious enough for them to be hospitalized.
At the time, she said she was concerned about another surge.
"It's really moving quickly. It appears to cause infection more quickly than delta did, in two to three days as opposed to four to five days," Dr. Walkes said.
Dr. Walkes said they'll be monitoring all modeling projections to determine how to move forward with the COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.
“Our community learned first-hand the dangers new variants can pose. The delta variant arrived in the summer and is still in our community. Now we have the omicron variant,” Dr. Walkes said. “Our mission and our approach remain the same. Get vaccinated, get boosters, stay home if you are sick, wear your masks to protect yourself, your loved ones and our hospital systems from this virus.”
Health experts are urging anyone who can get a COVID-19 booster shot to do so. Experts are also recommending that even people who are vaccinated get a rapid COVID-19 test before attending any indoor gatherings.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House's top medical advisor, and Adler also both recommend that if you aren't aware of anyone's vaccination status at a gathering you plan to attend, you should wear a mask.
On Dec. 10, Austin Public Health (APH) announced it is now administering Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to anyone 16 years old and older who is already fully vaccinated. APH also said Austin-Travis County has continued to see success with vaccination efforts as eligibility has expanded, including increased demand for boosters.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before the omicron variant would reach Travis County. I am confident our community will step up and do what is necessary to mitigate any potential surge,” said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. “In the meantime, I encourage everyone to get fully vaccinated and boosted six months after your second dose. And until our Health Authority says otherwise, you are encouraged to wear a mask as recommended by the risk-based guidelines.”
APH is also now offering at-home COVID-19 tests for those who take advantage of food pantries.
In his Monday interview with Daybreak, Adler said he does not expect to see the Austin area move down into Stage 2 of its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines until at least after the holidays.
"It was inevitable that the omicron variant would arrive in Austin, and we are closely following the data to understand how this new variant will impact our community and hospital system as we continue to fight the delta variant," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. "As we prepare to spend time with loved ones this holiday season, it is now more important than ever to get the vaccine and your booster shots. And it’s always best to wear masks indoors if you’re around unvaccinated people."
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