Houston COVID-19 Report: Harris County Omicron Death First Reported in US [12/21/21]

houston omicron death

Getty EMS paramedics prepare to transport a COVID-positive woman to a hospital on August 25, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Her father in law had died only days before from the virus. Texas' largest city is seeing a major surge of the Delta variant of the Coronavirus, taxing EMS personnel and overwhelming city hospitals.

The first omicron death in the United States was reported in Harris County, Texas Monday, December 20, 2021.

Public health officials are advising residents to get vaccinated and receive a booster shot, noting that it is the best protection against COVID-19 and coronavirus variants. Free testing sites are also available, but remain busy, officials said. They advised that locals get tested before attending a family gathering, as close to the time of the event is possible.

The Harris County death was announced in the hours before President Joe Biden made a statement on the omicron variant. He said in the White House press conference that unvaccinated people are making choices that put friends, loved ones, neighbors, and strangers at risk.

“Your choice can be the difference between life and death,” he said.

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Here’s what you need to know:

The First Known American to Die From Omicron Was Unvaccinated & Had an Underlying Health Condition

Harris County Public Health announced that the patient who died from the omicron variant was a man between 50 and 60 years old. He was not vaccinated and had an underlying health condition, officials said. He faced greater risk of severe disease because of his health condition and his vaccination status, officials said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the patient’s family, and we extend our deepest sympathies,” said HCPH Executive Director Barbie Robinson in a statement. “This is a reminder of the severity of COVID-19 and its variants. We urge all residents who qualify to get vaccinated and get their booster shot if they have not already.”

As of December 20, there were 12,562 active cases of the coronavirus reported in Harris County and Houston, and 6,711 deaths, according to the COVID-19 data hub.

Officials in Harris County and Houston elevated the local threat level from “moderate” to “significant,” advising residents to “minimize all contacts unless fully vaccinated.” Health officials established a four-tiered threat level system. The “significant” threat is level two, with level one being the highest.

The health departments write:

Level 2 signifies a significant and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County, meaning that there is ongoing transmission of the virus. At this level, unvaccinated residents should minimize contact with others, avoid any medium or large gatherings, and only visit permissible businesses that follow public health guidance. Unvaccinated individuals should continue to mask, physical distance, and avoid all medium and large gatherings. Fully vaccinated individuals follow the latest local public health guidance on whether to also wear a mask while indoors in public places, in crowded outdoor settings, and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.

‘This Feels Like Whiplash,’ Said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the death of the omicron patient during a news conference covered by KHOU 11, and said the county has seen a concerning surge in the spread of the variant after seeing the numbers of cases decreasing.

“I know, for folks in Harris County, this feels like whiplash,” Hidalgo said during the news conference. “It follows a downward trend in hospitalizations and cases, only to see things trend back up, and it is so frustrating.”

Houston Methodist told the news outlet on Monday that omicron is the cause of 82% of its new cases only three weeks after the hospital first started testing for the variant. The Delta variant, which caused widespread concerns in the area, spread much slower, taking three months to become as prevalent in hospitals, the news outlet reported.

“Omicron is spreading incredibly quickly. First, we know that an increasing number of cases in Harris county are related to omicron,” Hidalgo said. “It’s more transmissible. The amount of time it takes for the number of omicron cases to double has been very worrisome. Early data shows its doubling in two to three days, according to the CDC. Just to give a point of comparison, the delta variant doubles every eleven days.”

Cases requiring hospitalization are not limited to adults. KHOU 11 reported Texas Children’s Hospital saw cases double and triple in the previous week. Dr. Jim Versalovic of Texas Children’s Hospital told the news outlet he has seen “an upward trajectory that is steeper than anything we’ve seen previously during this pandemic.”

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