Despite reports from a growing number of countries of a new omicron variant of the coronavirus, the delta variant remains the most widely circulated in Missouri, state health officials said Tuesday.
No cases of the omicron variant have been identified in Missouri or in the United States as of Tuesday. State health officials said they continue to monitor laboratory and environmental test results to identify any circulating variant, including the possibility of omicron.
“If the omicron variant emerges in Missouri, the public health community has the resources available to identify it through the state’s extensive partnerships and monitoring systems, as has been done with other emerging variants,” said Donald Kauerauf, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, in a statement. “Emerging COVID-19 variants can be highly unpredictable in the early stages, so the public needs to remain vigilant to prevent their risk of exposure.”
Health care providers across the state have been submitting specimens to the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory as part of a surveillance program, supported through a partnership with the University of Missouri. The surveillance project has been testing community wastewater facilities to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. State health officials said the omicron variant has not been detected in Missouri wastewater samples as of Tuesday.
Kauerauf said the most effective way to protect oneself and others from COVID-19 and the coronavirus variants is to get vaccinated and to receive a booster dose when eligible. Individuals 5 and older are eligible for vaccination, while booster doses generally are available to those 18 and older.
“Although we will learn more about the omicron variant in the coming weeks, I encourage all Missourians to make it their personal responsibility to take control of the COVID-19 threat and follow public health recommendations for vaccinations,” Kauerauf said. “By getting vaccinated, we are doing our part to limit the impact of the current variants that are circulating in Missouri.”
Across Missouri, 51% of the population has completed vaccination, according to state data. In Joplin, which reports its data separately from the counties, the vaccination rate is 58.4%.
Southwest Missouri counties remain among the lowest in the state in terms of vaccination rates. Jasper County, excluding Joplin, has a vaccination rate of 31.2%, and Newton County has a vaccination rate of 28.5%, according to state data.