Tom Green County reports largest positive COVID-19 tests since pandemic began; here's why

·4 min read

SAN ANGELO — Positive cases of the coronavirus are once again surging across the country, Texas and in Tom Green County, which has reported more than 100 new positive cases daily since Dec. 27.

From Dec. 28-Jan. 5, officials reported 2,341 new positives, averaging 260 for a 9-day period. Of those 2,341 cases, 1,449 of them were reported since Wednesday, Jan. 5.

Tom Green County reported its most cases in a single day since the pandemic began, with 532 positives on Wednesday, Jan. 5.

Tom Green County has reported its most cases in a single day since March 2020, with 532 new positive cases on Jan. 5, 2022.
Tom Green County has reported its most cases in a single day since March 2020, with 532 new positive cases on Jan. 5, 2022.

More: Amid latest COVID spike, Texas hospitals say staffing shortage is accelerating

Experts say the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is likely to blame for the recent spike in cases.

"I think omicron is everywhere on earth," said Jim Vretis, Tom Green County Public Health Authority. "It was recently reported in Antarctica. I think (the international space station) is probably omicron-free."

FACT CHECK: Omicron coronavirus variant is not the common cold

The Department of Health Services recently estimated approximately 90% of COVID cases in Texas were from the Omicron variant, according to Sandra Villarreal, director of health services for the City of San Angelo.

Holiday travel, gatherings and parties brought people together, "which gave COVID-19 the opportunity to spread rapidly," Villarreal said, and because Omicron symptoms appear to be mild, slight symptoms may have gone unnoticed.

Story continues after photo gallery.

Last winter, when cases reached their previous highest level, an average of 250,000 people tested positive each day in the country. This week, that number has surpassed an average of 550,000 people per day testing positive.

How likely is the Omicron variant in Tom Green County?

Villarreal said that because of a lag in testing, Tom Green County has not seen a confirmed case of COVID-19 of the Omicron variant as of Jan. 5, 2022, but that doesn't mean the variant isn't here.

"There is always a lag between the spikes of positive cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths," Vretis said. "Most people who test positive are very early in the course of their disease. Most will not become sick enough to be hospitalized for 7-10 days into their diseases."

While new positive cases have shot up in Tom Green County, hospitalizations have stayed relatively low.

While new positive case numbers have shot up in Tom Green County, hospitalizations have stayed relatively low.
While new positive case numbers have shot up in Tom Green County, hospitalizations have stayed relatively low.

There were 25 people hospitalized Thursday, Jan. 6, at Shannon Medical Center, according to the City of San Angelo, despite health officials reporting 428 new positive cases in Tom Green County.

Lyndy Stone, a spokesperson for Shannon Medical Center, said the Omicron variant appears to be "much milder" than the previous strains of COVID-19.

"With the current strain, we are seeing illness present more like a cold with symptoms of runny nose, sore throat and mild fever. We are not seeing large numbers of patients with respiratory distress, as this strain does not appear to attack the lungs like the Delta variant," Stone said in a message to the Standard-Times.

Stone cautioned there were still individuals who were becoming "severely sick and requiring hospitalization," even though that percentage is significantly lower than the surge Tom Green County saw last summer.

The City reported a Tom Green County man in his 60s died Thursday, Jan. 6, due to COVID-19, bringing the total coronavirus deaths to 482 — 305 from Tom Green County and 177 from other counties — since testing began in February 2020.

What you need to do to avoid getting sick

Health experts say the same rules apply as before to avoid contracting COVID-19: wash your hands, wear a mask, social distance, stay home when feeling sick — even if you have mild allergy or cold symptoms because the Omicron variant appears to be mimicking those symptoms.

They also encouraged people to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or booster shot.

Riaan Devaiah, right, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Shannon Medical Center vaccination clinic Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.
Riaan Devaiah, right, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Shannon Medical Center vaccination clinic Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

"While people who have been vaccinated are contracting this strain of COVID, their illness is very mild," Stone said. "The vaccine is effective in helping prevent hospitalization, as most of those hospitalized are unvaccinated individuals."

Stone added that Shannon Medical Center was treating the 25 hospitalized patients within its designated COVID units, and were "hopeful" the number would continue to remain low.

Others are reading: Most people are still wearing cloth masks. Here's why that's a problem with omicron

John Tufts covers enterprise and investigative topics in West Texas. Send him a news tip at JTufts@Gannett.com. Standard-Times reporter Alana Edgin contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on San Angelo Standard-Times: San Angelo reports highest COVID-19 numbers since testing began

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