While Friday marks the end of 2021, local health officials are reminding San Antonio residents it does not mark the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the city is bringing back its annual New Year’s Eve celebration downtown to welcome in 2022, health officials are urging residents to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19 in the face of the omicron wave, especially those who are not vaccinated.

For those planning to attend a New Year’s Eve gathering or party, the San Antonio Metro Health Department recommends everyone wear a mask regardless of vaccination status

“Let’s take care of our loved ones and continue to follow the guidelines so we can remain healthy this holiday season,” Metro Health Director Claude Jacob said in a statement.

As forecast by University of Texas at San Antonio mathematics professor Juan Gutiérrez earlier this month, a wave of cases driven by the omicron variant is now sweeping the region.

“Although it’s probably not a popular recommendation, it’s would be advisable to skip the in-person get-togethers if you’re going to be around folks [from] outside your household,” said Dr. Bryan Alsip, executive vice president and chief medical officer at University Health. “[Especially if] you don’t really know their vaccination status, simply because this variant is prevalent and will take advantage of that.”

While omicron patients are showing somewhat milder symptoms than those who were infected with the delta variant, the latest variant is causing a massive spike in cases across the state; compared to the 4,500 new daily confirmed cases reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services on Nov. 30, Texas reported more than 15,000 new cases on Tuesday, and another nearly 12,000 Wednesday, according to the state’s dashboard.

While the county has paused updating its COVID-19 data dashboards until Jan. 3, it is updating the daily case count based on state health department figures. On Tuesday, more than 800 new cases were reported, although that dropped Wednesday to 424. In early December, daily new cases were averaging in the 200s.

“Certainly, we are seeing more infections in the community, and within the hospitals, we are seeing more COVID-19 positive patients being admitted,” Alsip said. “I think a lot of that has to do with the increased transmission that we’ve seen from omicron, which probably represents the majority of the variants that we’re seeing right now.”

The majority of those hospitalized for COVID-19, about 80%, are unvaccinated, Alsip said. He added that it’s not too late for unvaccinated people to get the jab, and recommended the full series of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

As for ramping up precautions, now is the time, Alsip said. Wearing masks in public can help slow the spread, and he noted that while various types of masks differ in their level of protection, any and all masks are better than no masks.

“Certainly, if you have a surgical or medical-grade mask, that’s more effective than a fabric or cloth mask … but that’s not to say that they’re completely ineffective,” he said. “I think the more important point is that masks are really just one of the tools we use to protect ourselves, along with vaccination and being cognizant of distancing and crowds.”

Individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 or who have tested positive for COVID-19 should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines and isolate for five days, Alsip said. If they are asymptomatic after five days, they can cautiously go out but should mask up, the CDC states. This recommendation changed from 10 days to five days earlier this week in the wake of new data.

The CDC’s announcement came just a day before the state health department warned that five of its regional infusion centers — including the one in San Antonio — have run out of the only monoclonal antibody treatment known to be effective against the omicron variant of COVID-19, which now accounts for 90% of new cases in the state.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the Science & Utilities reporter for the San Antonio Report.