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Missouri health officials warn of rising omicron cases

The omicron COVID-19 variant is rapidly spreading through Missouri, according to wastewater testing data released by the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). 

More than half of the sewershed samples collected last week contained mutations associated with the new variant, according to the department. Of the 57 samples collected, 32 yielded evidence of the variant in communities across the state, including in Branson, Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, and St. Charles County. 

“Our robust program for monitoring COVID-19 through sewershed sampling provides us with reliable information regarding the presence of the virus and its variants,” DHSS Director Donald Kauerauf said in a statement. “The existence of the omicron variant is becoming much more prevalent each week, making the actions of COVID-19 individual testing, vaccination, and other mitigation measures more important as we already face the threat of the delta variant and an increase in flu cases.”

Kauerauf encouraged Missourians to practice social distancing, testing before attending events, and frequent handwashing. DHSS also encouraged those eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu this winter.  

The sewershed testing program is a collaboration between DHSS, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the University of Missouri. The program monitors trends of the virus in communities by examining the amount of viral genetic material in wastewater, which can be measurable before people begin to show symptoms. 

Samples are collected weekly from wastewater treatment plants, and the data is scaled based on the change from one week to the next. While it cannot determine the exact number of infections, the data can illustrate the levels of infection in a particular area and trends within the community. 

The first confirmed case of the omicron variant in Missouri was identified earlier this month in St. Louis. 

The first reported case of the omicron variant in the U.S. was found in California on Dec. 1. That individual had recently traveled to South Africa. 

COVID-19 cases are rising across the country, coughing widespread concern. President Joe Biden addressed the nation last week, urging Americans to follow health guidelines and get vaccinated. 

Though breakthrough cases can still occur, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said vaccines are effectively preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.  

Missouri reported 16,859 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days and 14 deaths. Nearly 57 percent of the state’s eligible population have completed vaccination, and 64 percent have received at least an initial dose.