Omicron variant not yet detected in Missouri wastewater

Posted at 5:32 PM, Nov 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-29 18:32:50-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Experts believe the new omicron variant of COVID-19 began in or around South Africa.

While there is still much to learn about this new variant, public health officials said it's a matter of when — not if — the variant will make its way to the Kansas City area.

Frank Thompson, interim director of the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, said with the nature of international travel currently, just about everywhere is connected.

Thompson said community members should continue to practice the same infection prevention control methods officials have preached all along.

"That includes hand washing, maintaining your distance, wearing masks in public places where you can’t maintain your distance," Thompson said.

The state of Missouri has been testing for COVID-19 in wastewater for months now through the Sewershed Surveillance Project.

Marc Johnson, a molecular microbiology professor at the University of Missouri, leads the project and said he has not yet detected the omicron variant in the state as of early November.

"We might expand a bit since there is a heightened interest right now, but for the most part we have got a pretty darn secure net. We cover about 70% of the population in the state," Johnson said.

Johnson said the project has picked up only delta variant since around June.

Doctors at the University of Kansas Health System said it isn't surprising the variant is spreading overseas since it appears to be highly transmissible.

However, Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer, said early data shows symptoms appear to be milder.

"They predominately present with nausea, dizziness, maybe a dry cough and lightheadedness or fatigue, no loss of taste or sense of smell right now, they haven't seen the severe respiratory illness, but it's still really early in our discovery of these cases," Stites said.

Johnson said he believes the new variant maybe be more resistant to vaccines due to its make-up, though having a vaccine is always better than not when it comes to any COVID-19 variant.

Thompson said the department will work to target the population of people who have not yet been vaccinated.

"There is a population, and it is a substantial population both statewide and here in Kansas City, that are not resistant to it but just for whatever reason have not gotten it," Thompson said. "Either they have questions or they have barriers, they just haven’t done it yet, and so how do we get into that population and encourage more of that population to get vaccinated? That’s the challenge that is ahead for us."

Thompson said people shouldn't worry about being less protected against the variant if they received a booster with a lower dosage amount.

"Part of the research in terms of getting FDA and CDC approval for that was that they had to demonstrate that lower dose provided the same level of protection," Thompson said.