Austin's NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Omicron variant likely detected in UT Austin community

A person wearing a mask walks past the UT tower.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Results from three people's COVID-19 tests at UT Austin show they likely contracted the omicron COVID-19 variant.

Preliminary lab results show the omicron COVID-19 variant has been found in three people in the UT Austin community, the university announced Monday.

Genetic sequencing, which takes several days, still needs to be done to confirm the variant. If confirmed, these will be the first known cases of the fast-spreading variant in Austin-Travis County.

UT Health Services says it detected mutations that are “very strongly linked” with the omicron variant during its on-campus testing efforts. The three cases were not linked to each other, suggesting “the variant is present in the greater community."

So far, research has suggested the omicron variant is more contagious than previous variants, but possibly less severe. Vaccines are expected to be protective against severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths from the variant, but more time is needed for scientists to understand what impact it will have on the U.S.

UT and Austin Public Health officials are urging people to continue prevention efforts, especially as the holidays approach and people plan to travel and gather with others.

“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,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a press release. “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.”  

Local officials say it was just a matter of time before the variant was confirmed in Austin. The first omicron case in Texas was discovered in Harris County a week ago.

"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," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in the release. "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."

People 5 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and people 16 and older are eligible for booster shots. About 70% of people 5 and older in Travis County have been fully vaccinated against the virus, according to state data. Austin Public Health offers vaccines at walk-up clinics in Travis County. You can also find a provider near you at Vaccines.gov.

If you found this reporting valuable, please consider making a donation to support it. Your gift pays for everything you find on KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.

Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at mcharpentier@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
Related Content