HOUSTON (AP) – An unvaccinated man with health issues has become the first person in the United States whose death has been linked to COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the death of the man in his 50s in the Houston area during a news conference Monday. It is the first known death in the U.S. related to omicron.
“I know for folks in Harris County this feels like whiplash. We saw the downward trend in hospitalizations and cases, only to see things trend back up again. And it is so frustrating. I feel it, too… As we’ve been expecting the omicron variant of COVID-19 has arrived in full force,” Hidalgo said.
One Houston hospital system has reported the omicron variant is accounting for 82% of new COVID-19 cases it is treating.
The medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital said in a tweet Sunday that the omicron variant became the “cause of the supermajority” of new Houston Methodist cases in less than three weeks. In comparison, the delta variant took three months during the summer before it was the cause of more than 80% of cases.
Federal health officials said Monday that omicron is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S. and accounted for an estimated 73% of new infections last week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron’s share of infections in only one week. CDC officials said they do not yet have estimates of how many hospitalizations or deaths are due to omicron.
Much about the omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.