McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A day after the first omicron variant of coronavirus was detected in Cameron County, health officials in neighboring Hidalgo County on Tuesday announced they have five cases, and Border Report has learned that the South Texas border town of Laredo also has a confirmed case of the omicron variant.
Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Chief Administrative Officer Eddie Olivarez said four adults and one child were infected with the highly contagious omicron COVID-19 variant.
All of the cases were initiated by local pharmacies and verified by a state laboratory, which is a process that takes time and can delay initial community reporting.
“Given the contagious nature of this variant, we have long suspected that Omicron was present in Hidalgo County,” Olivarez said in a statement. “But these cases were the first official confirmation by the state.”
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told Border Report they received notification from state health officials on Tuesday morning of their first omicron case in Laredo, which is in Webb County. But he said “we have been waiting for weeks” for confirmation.
State health officials report Webb County currently has over 2,300 active cases of COVID-19. This is up substantially from just 116 active coronavirus cases on Dec. 18, Laredo Health Director Dr. Richard Chamberlain told Border Report.
“The numbers are increasing — the COVID numbers. We highly suspect they are omicron. Hopefully, now that there is at least some confirmation it kind of proves the assumption,” Saenz said via phone on Tuesday afternoon.
The remote border town, across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo, has a population of 250,000 and a limited hospital capacity. In previous COVID-19 surges, ICU units have filled to capacity and they do not have a pediatric intensive care unit.
Saenz said they also worry because the Texas Department of State Health Services late last month announced that the regional distribution centers for monoclonal antibodies have run out of supplies.
“If we have enough numbers and given the fact people have co-morbidities, our fear is it will impact our hospitalizations and that’s where the main issue is. The lack of therapeutics and lack of monoclonal antibodies those are all concerns for us,” Saenz said.
Zapata County, to the east of Webb County, reports no confirmed omicron cases. However, County Judge Joe Rathmell told Border Report that coronavirus cases have spiked in the past week.
“We are seeing a surge in cases this week,” Rathmell said. “I don’t have official confirmation from any of the agencies for sure that it’s omicron, but we’re assuming.”
Zapata County does not have a hospital and sends all of its patients either to facilities in Laredo or Starr County.
Rathmell said several county employees have tested positive for coronavirus recently but report relatively mild symptoms.
In Hidalgo County, three of the infected adults had been fully vaccinated; one was partially vaccinated and the child was unvaccinated, Hidalgo County officials said.
Hidalgo County currently has over 5,100 active COVID-19 cases, according to TDSHS.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said currently there are no plans to close border businesses.
“The community already knows that the best course of action is what health experts have been saying for nearly two years now – avoid crowds, practice good hygiene, wear facial coverings and isolate yourselves if you test positive for COVID,” Cortez said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.