Omicron is spreading, but is Houston ready to combat the virus?

HOUSTON, Texas – The Omicron variant has yet to be reported in Houston but Chief environmental science officer Dr. Loren Hopkins with the Houston Health Department says they’ve been testing the wastewater to detect new variants with help from public works.

“If we didn’t have these tools, we’d just be relying on PCR tests and sequencing, which has been difficult to get all the data,” Hopkins explained.

When the Delta variant first came into the community, it was detected in wastewater. Delta continues to be the dominant strain in the Houston area.

“You’ll see an increase in the wastewater often before you see the increase in the positivity rate and then before you see an increase in what goes into the hospitals,” Hopkins said.

They’re currently surveying wastewater across the city, at the airport, nursing homes and schools.

Once they find a new variant in wastewater, they focus in on that neighborhood.

“We are on heightened alert, and those zip codes get special attention,” Hopkins said.

Many health experts are nervously waiting to see if Omicron makes it here and how infectious it is in our community.

In South Africa, it was considered highly transmissible. But, many argue they don’t have access to vaccines like we have in the United States.

So, there’s hope it would not become the dominant strain here.

However, local leaders are keeping an eye on it.

Harris County

“Even with the limited amount of information [that] we have on this variant, we know that vaccines - and especially boosters - are widely available and may still be effective at lessening the impact,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office said.

Fort Bend County

Fort Bend County said their risk level is low and their threat level is currently yellow.


The Houston Health Department said in addition to wastewater surveillance, they’re working with community ambassadors who are volunteers in areas with low vaccination rates informing people about the risk of not getting a vaccine.