Houston Health Department

Omicron variant detected in Houston’s wastewater, Houston Health Department reports

December 6, 2021

HOUSTON - The Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is present in Houston’s wastewater, the Houston Health Department announced Monday night. The detection is the first indication the new variant is in Houston, although a case has not yet been confirmed in the city.

Wastewater samples collected on November 29-30 showed Omicron at eight of the city’s 39 wastewater treatment plants, including W.C.I.D. #111, Chocolate Bayou, Keegans Bayou, Metro Central, Northgate, Sims Bayou North, Turkey Creek, and West District. The genomic sequencing results confirming the variant were received Monday evening.

"The Houston Health Department and Houston Water continue to do an exceptional job tracking the impact of the virus in our community. While no specific case of the Omicron variant has been confirmed in an individual in the city of Houston, we should use this information as a reminder to get fully vaccinated, including a booster shot," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "Vaccines help protect us, our loved ones, friends, and colleagues in the work environment. As the holidays approach, I encourage everyone to remain vigilant about their health and safety."

Federal health officials are conducting studies on whether Omicron is more transmissible, causes more serious illness, or evades vaccine protection compared to other variants of the virus. Results are expected in the next few weeks.

“Omicron in Houston is cause for concern but not panic,” said Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston. “It’s important to remember that vaccination is our best tool to reduce cases, prevent serious illness and death, and slow the emergence of new variants.”

The health department routinely tests the city’s wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19, including variants, and recently started testing samples for Omicron. People infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their feces.

The wastewater data helps to more quickly identify emerging outbreaks and hotspots needing interventions to help stop the spread of the virus.

“If you are not yet fully vaccinated, please do it now to protect yourself, your family, and our community,” said Dr. Persse. “If you are 18 years or older and it’s been six months since your second dose of Moderna or Pfizer or two months since the single dose of Johnson & Johnson, please get your booster shot.”

The health department offers any dose of all COVID-19 vaccines to all eligible ages (5+) at its vaccination sites. Vaccination is free and does not require proof of residency.

A list of vaccination sites is available at houstonhealth.org or by calling 832-393-4220.