University Health looking for omicron variant among positive COVID-19 tests in San Antonio

So far, variant has not yet been detected in Bexar County

File Photo (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) (Frank Augstein, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN ANTONIO – With the omicron variant of COVID-19 now confirmed in the United States, some hospital systems in Texas have begun ramping up efforts to sequence the strains of the virus that are active in local communities.

In San Antonio, University Health has begun sending off positive COVID-19 samples to UT Health for sequencing. The positive samples come from University Health’s clinics, the Wonderland screening center and the adult and juvenile detention centers.

That practice began in March, according to University Health officials. To date, 1,310 samples have been sequenced, and the omicron variant has not been detected among them.

University Health does not receive sequencing results for individual patients, so patients are not able to learn what type of variant they have. However, the lab will detect University Health on what variants are present in the hospital’s patient population.

The results, which take between 10 and 17 days to complete, are also shared with Metropolitan Health.

So far, officials say the primary variant present in Bexar County remains delta.

Statewide, the Texas Department of State Health Services created a network with universities and labs across Texas to expand efforts to detect variants. Officials hope the partnership will expand sequencing numbers by roughly 25%.

“It is important that we know which SARS-CoV-2 variants are here in Texas, no matter where in Texas they are appearing,” said Dr. Jennifer Shuford, the Chief State Epidemiologist and co-chair of the network’s steering committee. “By establishing a network of sequencing labs and analytical teams, we can use the skill and scientific know-how in our state to understand how COVID-19 is changing in Texas, how it might affect our communities, and how we can best keep Texans healthy and safe.”

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About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.