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COVID Live Updates: State and local officials are investigating omicron's arrival in Texas

A researcher handles a COVID-19 test
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Get live updates throughout the day on how COVID-19 is affecting North Texas.

» COVID-19 By The Numbers:

  • In Texas: More than 4.3 million cases and more than 74,100 deaths have been reported.
  • Cases In North Texas: Tarrant County: 373,363; Dallas County: 351,664; Denton County: 111,961; Collin County: 108,339. There have been at least 12,148 reported deaths in the region's four largest counties. (Data as of Dec. 7)
  • Counties across Texas: Use the Texas Newsroom's interactive maps.
  • Global: See Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 dashboard.

Wednesday, Dec. 8

State and local officials are investigating omicron's arrival in Texas

State and local health officials are investigating the omicron variant’s arrival in Texas.

Chief State Epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Shuford said they’re hoping to identify where the new strain is, and how quickly it’s spreading.

“One thing that we’re doing is really trying to ramp up our sequencing efforts very quickly," said Shuford. "We have established a sequencing partnership with the UT School of Public Health, as well as other academic medical centers in Texas and some commercial labs."

Shuford stressed improved surveillance across the state is also important in the short term as the variant spreads throughout the state.

A Harris County woman is the state’s first known case so far.

West Texas hospital expects to lose staff over vaccine mandate for healthcare workers

A West Texas hospital expects to lose staff if the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers eventually goes into effect. A federal judge blocked the requirement last week.

Russell Meyers is the CEO of Midland Health. He said Tuesday they are prepared to comply with the mandate but welcome the reprieve.

"We certainly were concerned and remain concerned that we could have a loss of staff," Meyers said.

Texas and other Republican-led states have sued the Biden administration over vaccine mandates for health care workers, large companies, and federal contractors. Federal courts have now blocked each of the requirements nationwide.

Tuesday, Dec. 7

Unvaccinated people make up vast majority of Dallas County hospitalizations, deaths from COVID-19

Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang told the Dallas County Commissioners Court on Tuesday the vast majority of people hospitalized are unvaccinated.

“When you look at the percentage of the hospital admissions of people who are fully vaccinated versus not fully vaccinated, [at least] 80% are not vaccinated,” he said.

Similarly, Huang said, deaths are also afflicting non-vaccinated people way more than those who’ve had the shot.

About a million Dallas County residents have not received a vaccine for COVID-19. More vaccine and infection data for the county is here.

People can get a vaccine in several ways — calling their doctor, visiting the county health department, or visiting a vaccine site like Dallas College Eastfield Campus. There are also vaccines at pharmacies.

Find more information at vaccines.gov.

Denton County health officials increase efforts to get people vaccinated

COVID-19 cases are no longer trending up in Denton County, after a slight uptick last month. Currently, there are more than 5,000 active cases throughout the county.

Public Health Director Matt Richardson updated County Commissioners Tuesday on efforts to increase vaccinations as cases decrease.

"We're both doing large population eligibility. We're also reaching out in this phase of the pandemic to those individuals who might have limited access," said Richardson.

The county is focusing on reaching people in jail and juvenile detention centers and those without permanent housing.

Denton County continues to offer COVID vaccines at its community clinics.

Officials will administer pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the Morse Street Facility Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Monday, Dec. 6

Texas reports its first case of omicron COVID-19 variant

A Houston-area resident is the first known Texas case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

State health officials announced Monday night that the adult female, a Harris County resident, was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. Genetic sequencing results indicated the infection was caused by the omicron strain, officials say.

The woman is in her 40s and had no recent travel history, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said on Twitter.

Harris County and state health officials are investigating the case.

Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, says he’s not surprised the omicron variant showed up in Texas.

“It’s normal for viruses to mutate,” Hellerstedt wrote in a statement. “Getting vaccinated and continuing to use prevention strategies, including wearing a mask when you are around people you don’t live with, social distancing, handwashing and getting tested when you have symptoms, will help slow the spread of the virus and help end the pandemic.”

Gov. Abbott says state officials are preparing for omicron variant

More than a dozen states have confirmed cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While Texas has not yet detected it, Gov. Greg Abbott told Fox News Channel on Sunday that state health officials are taking steps to prepare for a possible increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

"We're working to make sure that vaccines are available to anyone who wants a vaccine and also working to make sure that we make it easier for people to get a test so they can determine whether or not they have the new variant or the delta variant — whatever the case may be," Abbott said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have already been trending up in Texas over the last week or so. Nearly 60 %of Texans ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated.

Texas educators say they're concerned about omicron variant

A group representing Texas teachers says educators are increasingly concerned about the omicron variant, especially as the holiday break approaches. Ovidia Molina heads the Texas State Teachers Association.

“There’s a fear for the students who cannot get a vaccine yet, our young students," Molina said. "There’s a fear for family members that may be immunocompromised or themselves or in a higher risk. So, we’re always looking to have as many safety protocols, precautions in place to ensure we all survive the pandemic.”

The group has repeatedly criticized Gov. Greg Abbott for banning mask mandates in schools.

Even though a federal appeals court recently upheld the Republican governor's order, several of the largest school districts in Texas — including Houston ISD and Dallas ISD — continue to defy it.

Friday, Dec. 3

Tarrant County Public Health will host a series of pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics over the weekend

Sites will have Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna shots available. Pediatric and booster shots will also be administered.

  • Dan Dipert Career + Technical Center
    2101 Browning Drive Arlington, TX 76010
    Open on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Grace Methodist Church of the Metroplex
    1310 Collard Street Fort Worth, TX 76105
    Open on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • First Presbyterian Church Fort Worth
    1000 Penn Street Fort Worth, TX 76102
    Open on Sunday, Dec. 5 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Parents need to bring proof of the child’s age and their own ID for the vaccination. The vaccination is free.

You can find a full list of local vaccine sites on the county's website.

Texas jobless claims hit another record low since the start of the pandemic

The U.S. Labor Department reports first-time jobless claims in Texas fell sharply last week to hit another record low since the onset of the pandemic.

Less than 10,000 Texans filed initial claims for benefits in the last full week of Nov. That's a 38% drop from the week before and the lowest level reported since Dec. 2019.

For more than a month, weekly claims in Texas have hit new lows since the pandemic began. But, the job market recovery is still ongoing.

Preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show there were about 770,000 out-of-work Texans in Oct. That's down from the peak of roughly 1.7 million in April 2020.

Thursday, Dec. 2

Ken Paxton celebrates court's decision to keep Texas ban on mask mandates in schools

The Texas Attorney General is praising a federal appeals court for upholding Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates in schools amid the pandemic.

Republican Ken Paxton said on the Mark Davis Show this morning the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stayed a decision from a federal judge in Austin. That judge ruled Abbott's order violated the rights of students with disabilities.

"He stopped the governor's executive order from being enforced in any school district in the entire state and we were able to go to the Fifth Circuit and have that stay stayed," Paxton said.

Disability Rights Texas, which filed the lawsuit challenging Abbott's mask mandate ban, said it's disappointed with the Fifth Circuit's decision.

Wednesday, Dec. 1

First U.S. case of COVID-19 omicron variant identified

A person in California became the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the COVID-19 omicron variant, the White House announced Wednesday as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new strain of the virus.

The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from Southern Africa where the variant was first identified and had been widespread. Clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other nations.

“This is the first case of COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant detected in the United States,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said at the White House. He said the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking steps to tighten U.S. testing rules for travelers from overseas, including requiring a test for all travelers within a day of boarding a flight to the U.S. regardless of vaccination status. It was also considering mandating post-arrival testing.

Read the fully story by the Associated Press.

Marcus Lamb, Founder of Dallas-Area Christian TV Network Daystar, Dies at 64

Dallas-area televangelist Marcus Lamb has died, his Daystar Television Network announced.

Daystar said in a post on its website that Lamb died Tuesday morning. He was 64.

“He leaves behind a legacy of fiercely loving the Lord, all the people of the world and, most of all, his family,” the network said.

The network did not say how Lamb died, but a Facebook post from Perry Stone Ministries on Nov. 18 said Lamb was being treated for a severe case of COVID-19.

Read the full story by NBCDFW.

Judge blocks federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers after Texas, other states sue

The Texas Attorney General is praising a federal judge for blocking the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors in three states.

Republican Ken Paxton said on Twitter he has sued to block the same requirement. He has criticized the president's vaccine mandates as federal overreach.

Read the full story by The Texas Tribune.

Texas worker wages surged this month, according to Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reports Tuesday worker wages surged this month in the Texas service and retail sectors.

The Dallas Fed says average employee wages in both sectors increased in November faster than any other time since 2007.

Respondents to a monthly survey noted that hiring in the tight labor market remains a challenge. Global supply chain disruptions are also driving up costs for businesses.

Still, executives in both sectors expressed optimism about future business activity.

Tuesday, Nov. 30

Denton County continues to see an increase in cases

Denton County officials report more than 5,400 active cases.

Public Health Director Matt Richardson updated County Commissioners on Tuesday. He said a spike in COVID cases would further strain local hospitals.

"This is going to squeeze our hospital staff. This is going to squeeze access," Richardson said. "So be thinking about strokes and heart attacks and babies with fewer nurses being able to respond with increasing infections. This is an issue."

Richardson also addressed the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus. He said information is limited, but he expects to know more about how transmissible the variant is in the coming weeks.

Denton County will host two pediatric vaccine clinic this week at the Morse Street Facility. Shots are available by appointment only this Thursday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 29

Texas vaccine expert says delta variant still the biggest threat in the U.S.

Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston says scientists should know within the next two weeks whether current COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the omicron variant. He told CNN he remains most concerned about another variant.

"Right now, I think it's, it's important to focus on what we do know is the biggest threat in the United States and that is the delta variant," Hotez said. "It is accelerating now and the U.S. population isn't completely vaccinated."

The U.S. did impose travel restrictions today on South Africa and seven other countries in response to the omicron variant.

Rebecca Fischer, Texas A&M University epidemiologist told Texas Standard it's important to keep an eye on COVID-19 numbers in the weeks ahead.

"We should be really cautious here in Texas and continue to practice those preventive and protective behaviors that we have become so familiar with, Fischer said.

According to the latest data from the Department of State Health Services, just under 59% of Texas' eligible population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Anyone 5 and up can get the shots.

Manufacturing up in Texas

Texas factory activity picked up speed this month, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas' monthly manufacturing survey.

Indexes measuring production, new orders and shipments all increased this month from levels already well-above average. More than 90 manufacturing executives who took the survey also reported ongoing growth in employment and wages. But, the Dallas Fed also found the price of raw materials continued to climb.

Almost 93% of those surveyed said they faced supply chain disruptions or delays. Most do not expect their supply chains to return to normal for months.

Read More: A Timeline Of COVID-19's Spread In North Texas

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