San Antonio appears to be moving past its omicron peak, according to data and local physicians.
Over the last two weeks, the number of new omicron cases and omicron-related hospitalizations in Bexar County have been on the decline, with the seven-day average dipping from 6,975 on Jan. 12 to 3,556 on Thursday.
This week, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District upgraded San Antonio’s risk level from “severe and worsening” to “severe and steady.” The area’s positivity rate also dropped, from a high of 39.4 on Jan. 23 to 32.4 this week.
It doesn’t appear that deaths, always a lagging indicator, have peaked yet. Metro Health reported 63 new deaths over the past week, 39 of those just in the past three days.
San Antonio’s omicron decline reflects similar trends statewide. Texas is also seeing new cases and hospitalizations decline, while deaths are still rising.
Despite the apparent good news, local health officials are still urging residents to take precautions against the highly contagious variant, such as continuing to wear masks indoors and social distance when necessary.
“We have to understand that we are still in this,” said Anita Kurian, assistant director of Metro Health.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, almost 500,000 cases have been reported in Bexar County and 5,135 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported as of Thursday.
The fourth local surge in cases, which can be attributed to the omicron variant, began on Dec. 13 and rapidly drove case numbers up over the next month, Kurian said. Since Jan. 12, San Antonio has seen a slow decline in its seven-day moving average of new cases.
As of last week, that decline also began for COVID-19-related hospitalizations, Kurian said. Typically there is a short lag between a rapid incline or decline of new cases to hospitalizations, she said.
The decline in new COVID-19-related hospitalizations has been something Dr. Bryan Alsip, executive vice president and chief medical officer at University Health, has been watching carefully. Alsip told the San Antonio Report the system experienced its peak in hospitalization numbers last Friday.
“Since that time, we’ve been on a downward slope,” he said.
As has been seen across the world with omicron, the total number of cases locally exceeded any of the waves before it, Alsip said, while hospitalizations have been on par with previous ones, showing it’s been a less severe strain. Alsip said hospitalization numbers from the omicron variant are very similar to the numbers seen in the first local COVID-19 wave, in the summer of 2020.
Still, despite the declines in cases and hospitalizations, Kurian was hesitant to say the omicron-driven peak is really over for San Antonio. While the United States has previously mirrored other waves in parts of Europe and South Africa, it has deviated in the case of the omicron surge, Kurian said. Whereas these other areas saw a rapid incline in cases followed by a rapid decline, the U.S. is experiencing a slower decline that’s all but stalled in some places, Kurian said.
“Essentially, we are seeing signs of more prolonged waves or tails,” Kurian said. “And this is why I’m very hesitant to say, ‘Oh we’ve peaked, and now we are declining, and we’ll see a rapid decline and it’ll all be done in few weeks.’ It’s really difficult to say that. What I can say is that we are keeping close tabs on our case numbers and hospitalizations.”
With that said, Kurian said people should continue to keep on practicing COVID-19 safety measures, such as wearing a mask inside public spaces, socially distancing, and frequent hand washing.
Health officials noted that omicron will almost certainly not be the last problematic variant of the pandemic.
In a video interview sent out to local journalists earlier this week, Dr. Jason Bowling, University Health epidemiologist, noted that scientists are studying a new sub-variant called BA.2, or “stealth omicron.”
Little is known yet about the sub-variant, which has been reported in Texas and other states.