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Unvaccinated Texas man’s death may be first in US attributed to omicron

By Adeel Hassan


Health officials in Texas said that an unvaccinated Houston-area man who died Monday afternoon had the omicron variant.


The death appeared to be among the first in the United States to be publicly attributed to omicron. However, only a small percentage of coronavirus samples across the country are checked to determine which variant is involved, and experts say that there are gaps and time lags in the reporting of COVID deaths, so other omicron deaths may simply have not yet been announced.


The authorities in Harris County, the third largest in the United States and home to Houston, said that the man was in his 50s and had previously been infected with the coronavirus, but had not been vaccinated. “The individual was at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19 due to his unvaccinated status and had underlying health conditions,” the county Public Health Department said in a statement.


The highly contagious omicron variant, first identified less than a month ago in southern Africa, has spread so fast that it is already the dominant source of new infections in the United States. What has been less clear is how the severity and deadliness of disease caused by omicron compares with earlier variants.


The announcement came as County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top public official in Harris County, raised the county’s coronavirus threat level to “significant” because of the rapid spread of the omicron variant. Unvaccinated residents are told to minimize contact with others and avoid gatherings of more than a few people.


The county is now averaging more than 2,000 new cases a day, more than five times the average from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. About 59% of adults in the county are fully vaccinated.


“Omicron is producing breakthrough infections,” Hidalgo said at a news conference Monday. “So folks with the vaccine are getting it. That does not mean the vaccine doesn’t work. On the contrary, the evidence shows the vaccine is going to keep you out of the hospital. But we are seeing an increase in breakthrough cases.”


Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, 67 — who is vaccinated and boosted — has said that he has tested positive for the coronavirus and has mild symptoms.


“The time to get your booster shot is now,” Hidalgo said. “As we approach Christmas and New Year’s, give yourself, give your family the gift of health. Get your booster, especially if you’re 65 and older.”


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