KSAT Q&A: San Antonio epidemiologist discusses COVID-19 omicron variant trends, testing differences

More than 4,300 new cases reported Tuesday in Bexar County

Dr. Cherise Rohr Allegrini, an infectious disease epidemiologist joined Tuesday’s KSAT Q&A to discuss the trends of the new COVID-19 omicron variant.

SAN ANTONIO – New COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Bexar County this week, with more than 4,300 new cases reported on Tuesday.

Cherise Rohr Allegrini, PhD, MPH, an infectious disease epidemiologist, joined Tuesday’s KSAT Q&A to discuss the trends of the new COVID-19 omicron variant and what some patients are experiencing after testing positive.

“(Omicron is) more contagious. That means you’re going to have more people affected by it, and we know that the two doses of the vaccine are not quite good enough,” Rohr Allegrini said. “So we need to get that third dose in. But (omicron) is more contagious, and it’s just a numbers game. The more people you have infected, the more likely that you’re going to have folks that have severe disease because it’s out there, whereas before it wasn’t as contagious.”

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s COVID-19 website reported 4,363 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday afternoon, with a 7-day moving average of 2,545. Metro Health said Monday that the new omicron variant expectedly accounted for 90% to 100% of cases in the county.

No new deaths were reported, and the total since the pandemic began stands at 4,977.

The COVID-19 website reports 533 patients are hospitalized, 116 are in the ICU and 47 are on ventilators. There are 11% of staffed beds available and 67% of ventilators available.

Metro Health raised Bexar County’s COVID-19 risk level to “severe” this week due to an increase in stress on the local hospital system, a rise in daily cases over the last two weeks, as well as a 27.3% positivity rate, according to officials.

“One thing to note about the positivity rate is you have to understand the denominator. I just looked at the number of tests where we got that 27% (positivity rate). So in December, we were testing between 50,000 and 60,000 a week,“ Rohr Allegrini said. “That 27% is based on less than 30,000 tests. So that’s going to shoot a little bit, but we still have over 8,000 that we’re testing positive. So that is that is very concerning.”

Rohr Allegrini said at-home testing kits should be able to pick up those who have contracted the omicron variant, but the tests aren’t as sensitive as those done at a testing site.

“They’re not as sensitive as the PCR test for sure, but they are sensitive. And if they’re done properly, which means you really get that Q-Tip up in your nose, rub it around at least five times on each side and you do it properly, there’s a good chance it’s going to detect if you’re infectious at that moment,” Rohr Allegrini said. “It’s not going to detect if you’ve got very, very small levels of virus that haven’t really become infectious yet, but it is a good indicator if you’re contagious right now.”

City, county and health officials continue encouraging masks, social distancing and vaccinations amid the spike in cases to avoid severe illness, officials say.

Metro Health said Monday that the City of San Antonio had requested expanded testing capacity at the state’s testing sites. Additional city testing sites will be set up this week. Find no-cost city testing sites by clicking here.

City health officials offer the following testing guidelines:

  • Consider using a self-test before joining indoor gatherings with others who are not in your household.
  • A positive self-test result means that you have an infection and should avoid indoor gatherings to reduce the risk of spreading disease to someone else.
  • A negative self-test result means that you may not have an infection. Repeating the test with at least 24 hours between tests will increase the confidence that you are not infected.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need help interpreting your test results.

Click here to find more city COVID-19 resources.

COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility as of 1/3/22 (KSAT)


About the Author:

Ivan Herrera has worked as a journalist in San Antonio for four years. Using his graduate degree in business from UTSA, he developed "Money: It's Personal," a weekly series that airs on GMSA at 9 on Tuesdays. The series breaks down personal finance topics into easy explainers. Before living in SA, Ivan covered border news in the Rio Grande Valley.