Comal County health officials confirmed the COVID-19 omicron variant for the first time among the more than 200 new cases reported on Friday, while local hospitalizations continued to trend upward.
According to Comal County Epidemiologist Connie Alaniz, two confirmed cases of the omicron variant were identified among the 266 new cases reported.
“That doesn’t mean there are only two cases of the variant. It just means that two of the samples submitted for variant testing were positive for the omicron variant,” Alaniz said. “Identifying a variant requires additional testing, which is done on a random sample of specimens sent to public health laboratories. According to (the Texas Department of State Health Services), the omicron variant now accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, so if you have a positive COVID-19 test, it is likely the omicron variant.”
First identified in southern Africa in November, the omicron variant has fueled a surge of cases worldwide over the past few weeks.
The first known Texas case of the variant was identified in a Harris County resident in early December.
The newly reported cases bring the total number in the county to 22,285 since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived here in March 2020.
On Thursday, 44,967 new cases were reported statewide, bringing the seven-day average to 47,367. The new cases represent an increase of 32,556 compared with the seven-day average a week ago.
Officials also confirmed the death of a New Braunfels man in his 50s who died on Dec. 27 at a local hospital, bringing the total number of fatalities to 486.
As of Thursday, 75,014 people who tested positive for the virus have died in Texas.
The county’s hospitalized patient population continued to grow on Friday, with local hospitals reporting caring for 39 patients for the virus on Thursday, an increase of three from the previous day, with eight in intensive care and four on ventilators.
About 81% of those patients are unvaccinated, according to health officials.
Not all patients hospitalized in Comal County are necessarily county residents.
That figure had been as low as four patients as recently as Dec. 16.
The regional hospitalization rate, which covers the 22-county area that includes both Comal and Guadalupe counties, stood at 9% on Friday, increasing from the 8.6% rate reported on Thursday. The number stood at 5.2% on Monday.
On Tuesday, there were at least 8,740 hospitalized patients in Texas with confirmed coronavirus infections, the most in three months, according to state data, an increase of 3,217 patients compared with a week ago.
COVID-19 patients currently occupy 14.3% of total hospital beds statewide.
Vaccines and testing
According to state data, 61.9% of Comal County residents ages 5 and older were fully vaccinated. The rate in neighboring Guadalupe County, which has a portion of the city of New Braunfels in it, stood at 55.41%. The statewide fully vaccinated rate stood at 61.38%.
About 39.7 million doses have been administered statewide, including booster shots. So far, 5 million Texans have received booster shots.
The county’s health department administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for those 18 and older and Pfizer vaccine for anyone five years and older by appointment. The health department is also offering COVID-19 booster vaccines to residents by appointment. Appointments can be made by calling 830-221-1150.
To find other locations where vaccines are available for both adults and children, the CDC has set up a national vaccine finder to search by zip code at www.vaccines.gov.
COVID-19 testing conducted by Curative continues in the parking lot of New Braunfels City Hall at 550 Landa St.
Residents should check availability and book appointments online at https://curative.com/.
Curative offers a modified version of the PCR test, allowing those being tested to administer their own swabs.
Tests are available at no cost to patients and are open to the public, regardless of which city or county a person resides.
Residents needing a COVID-19 test can also call their primary care physician or visit a local pharmacy, such as Walgreens or CVS.
COVID-19 testing in New Braunfels is also available at a site operated by Grand Avenue Pharmacy located at 894 Loop 337 Unit B, Riverside ER at 1860 S. Seguin Ave., Lonestar 24 HR ER at 1751 Medical Way and Christus Promptu Urgent Care at 1659 State Highway 46.
The Texas Department of State Health Services provides a map of testing locations at https://covidtest.tdem.texas.gov/.
The Texas Tribune contributed to this story.