CoronavirusNewsThe NorthSider

St. Louisan may have new Omicron COVID-19 variant

ST. LOUIS – The city’s health officials have been notified that a city resident has a presumed case of the newest kind of COVID-19 coronavirus, the Omicron variant. The Department of Health said in a press release Friday that it was awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of the St. Louis health department, said officials had been notified about the case about noon Friday. She could not release information about the patient but said that “there is no concern about the health of this resident at this time.”

The St. Louis health department currently does not know of any other suspected cases, she said.

The person with the virus recently traveled within the United States; health officials are investigating the case according to the established communicable disease investigative process.  The sample first was sequenced as part of commercial laboratory surveillance, according to the state health department.

Scientists monitor variants and the coronavirus’ evolution through genetic tests that are separate from the kinds of tests used to determine whether someone has COVID-19. This genetic sequencing allows scientists to monitor how the virus changes over time.

The coronavirus is continually evolving, but most mutations don’t involve much of a change. At this point, scientists are trying to figure out whether Omicron spreads more easily or causes more severe disease than the Delta variant. They are also studying how well the current vaccines work against it.

Donald Kauerauf, director of Missouri’s Health and Senior Services Department, in a statement urged residents to get information on the new variant from the agency and other trusted medical sources rather than social media.

“The Delta variant is still the predominant variant present in Missouri, currently representing well over 99 percent of the cases,” he said. “Citizens are urged to complete their vaccination series for COVID-19 and get their booster.”

Hlatshwayo Davis emphasized that while researchers study the new variant, “our strongest defense” was the public safety practices people have already been following.

“Getting vaccinated for COVID-19, including getting boosters, remains  critical to greatly reducing the severity of disease and death,” Hlatshwayo Davis said. She also stressed the need to properly wear face  masks, practice social distancing and wash hands often.

As of noon Friday, the city has tallied 29,151 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its residents, with another 3,953 suspected cases. Six hundred twenty-four people in the city have died from causes associated with the virus. More information on the COVID coronavirus in St. Louis is available on the city’s website.

On Friday, the state health department reported 5,375 new infections, the most on a single day since Jan. 8 that is not due to data adjustments or multi-day reports following holidays. The number of cases being reported daily is up more than 150 percent since the beginning of November.

Including Friday, there have been only 12 days since the first COVID-19 infection was found in the state in March 2020 with more than 5,000 cases in a single report. 

Whether the high single-day case count is due entirely to new infections or whether the state is still receiving data delayed by Thanksgiving is uncertain, the state health department tweeted Friday afternoon.

“We expected to see a bump in cases coming off the long holiday,” the tweet stated. “We will need several more days of data to evaluate the trends due to that disruption.”

Hospitalizations have been rising quickly, up almost 50 percent since mid-November to 1,460 inpatients as of Tuesday. The positive rate on tests is also rising, with the rate on PCR tests at 12.7 percent, highest since Aug. 27.

The Missouri Independent and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Staff is home to The NorthSider and The SouthSider weekly community newspapers. The SouthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Tuesday. The NorthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Thursday. They are distributed at over 600 locations across St. Louis.

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