December 17, 2021
Missouri identifies Omicron variant in wastewater samples
Lisa Cox, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services
JEFFERSON CITY, MO – The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) continues to partner with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the University of Missouri – Columbia, wastewater operators, and others to monitor COVID-19 trends by testing wastewater in communities throughout the state. In February 2021, this team began testing wastewater samples to look for the presence of variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. Using a technique called high throughput sequencing, the team looks for mutations in segments of the virus’s spike protein RNA, which are compared to mutations in known variants. The sequencing testing results are updated weekly and displayed in the COVID-19 sewershed surveillance StoryMap.
This sequencing testing has now identified the presence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) from two sets of samples: one collected on Dec. 8 from the St. Joseph wastewater treatment facility sewershed in Buchanan County, and another collected on Dec. 7 from the Little Blue Valley Sewer District Atherton/Middle Big Creek wastewater treatment facility sewersheds in Jackson County. In both wastewater systems, 2% of the COVID-19 viral strands were identified as having mutations associated with Omicron. This measurement is not a direct estimate of the percent of COVID-19 positive human cases in the area that are caused by the Omicron variant. Rather, it is only an indication that the Omicron variant virus is likely present among the population in these sewershed areas.
“As we anticipated, due to the known high transmissibility, the Omicron variant is in Missouri communities,” said Donald Kauerauf, DHSS Director. “Understanding that Omicron is in our state, we need to continue to be vigilant in taking proven measures to protect ourselves from this and the Delta virus that continues to be the dominant variant. Those who haven’t been vaccinated are highly encouraged to do so. If it is time for your booster, it is critically important to get your booster today to maximize your protection. Getting the booster greatly improves your protection from Omicron. These are the same measures we’ve recommended all along and continue to be effective in decreasing your chance of getting sick and being hospitalized.”
DHSS continues to recommend that residents follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, frequent handwashing and maintaining physical distance from others.
“COVID-19 testing is also very important, especially during this holiday season as we plan to gather with our families,” said Kauerauf. “If you’re not feeling well, stay home and don’t risk getting your loved ones sick. Families and friends should discuss prior to gathering this holiday season what precautions should be taken before you get together.”
Public health experts worldwide are working quickly to learn more about the Omicron variant and how it may impact the health and safety of citizens. The disease severity caused by Omicron is still unknown. Scientists are also studying the degree to which existing vaccines and therapies protect against Omicron.
DHSS will continue to work with public health partners to monitor for an increase in the Omicron variant, as well as trends in other variants. To learn more about Missouri’s variant monitoring efforts, visit Health.Mo.Gov.
Everyone 5 years and older is highly encouraged to protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated (and boosted if age 16 and older). Missourians should also take the opportunity to get their annual influenza vaccination as part of their risk reduction activities to protect themselves and others from seasonal respiratory illness.
How Missourians can get a free COVID-19 vaccine:
- Check for vaccine appointments at Vaccines.gov, where you can search for availability by vaccine type (e.g., Pfizer).
- Call the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine hotline at 1-800-232-0233 (or TTY 1-888-720-7489). Help is available in multiple languages.
- Locate local vaccination events in Missouri at MOStopsCovid.com.
- Seniors and homebound adults can make arrangements using information at MOStopsCovid.com/seniors
- Missouri DHSS COVID-19 Public Hotline
- Mon.-Fri., 7:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
- Missouri DHSS COVID-19 Public Hotline
How Missourians can get a free COVID-19 test:
- Walk in or schedule an appointment for a test at one of the state’s free community testing sites: COVID-19 Community Testing Sites.
- Order a test through the state’s free at-home COVID-19 testing program.
- Find a free testing option near you through the federal pharmacy locations.
About the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services: The department seeks to be the leader in protecting health and keeping people safe. More information about DHSS can be found at http://health.mo.gov or find us on Facebook and Twitter @HealthyLivingMo