The highly contagious omicron coronavirus variant has spread across much of Missouri, wastewater testing data released Friday shows.
The variant has now been detected at low levels in 15 of the 63 test locations, including in St Louis, Kansas City, Jefferson City, Columbia, Branson, St. Joseph, Union, Clinton, Warrensburg and Fulton, said Jeff Wenzel, who oversees the wastewater surveillance program for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
"I'm sorry that I don't have better news on Christmas Eve," Wenzel said.
He said the latest data shows the results of genetic sequencing conducted on samples that were collected the week of Dec. 13. Samples collected just one week earlier detected the variant in just two treatment facilities, one in St. Joseph and the other in the Kansas City area.
Wenzel said that for now delta remains the dominant strain, but the future is unclear.
"When we switched from alpha to delta, alpha cases were coming down, so delta took over quickly," he said. "I don't know what it is going to look like because we are having increased cases of delta. Now with omicron coming in, I'm not sure if we will see a similar situation, where omicron overtakes delta or if we will see some of both. I think the general consensus is that omicron will take over."
Nationally, omicron accounts for for 73% of new infections, federal health officials said Monday.
The announcement that omicron has spread to more communities comes just one day after St. Louis County health officials reported an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases and issued a desperate plea for the public to mask, get vaccinated and reconsider gatherings.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued a reminder Friday on twitter that outdoor gatherings are safer.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Missouri has risen over the past two weeks from 2,790.43 new cases per day on Dec. 8 to 3,133.71 new cases per day Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.