Presence of Omicron variant rising quickly throughout Missouri 
JEFFERSON CITY, MO – More than half of community sewershed samples tested from the week of Dec. 20 showed presence of the Omicron variant. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) continues to partner with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the University of Missouri – Columbia, wastewater operators, and others to monitor COVID-19 trends by testing wastewater in communities throughout the state. For nearly a year, this team has been testing wastewater samples to look for the presence of variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Sequencing tests identified the first presence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) from two sets of sewershed samples collected on Dec. 7-8 in Jackson County and Buchanan County. In both wastewater systems, COVID-19 viral strands were identified as having mutations associated with Omicron which indicated that the Omicron variant virus is likely present among the population in these sewershed areas. As a result of expanded testing the week of Dec. 20, 32 of 57 samples had mutations associated with Omicron variant. Those locations included: three Kansas City facilities (Blue River, Westside, and Birmingham), seven St. Louis facilities (Lemay, Grand Glaize, Coldwater Creek, Bissell Point, Fenton, Lower Meramec, and Missouri River), five St. Charles County facilities (St. Peters Spencer Creek, Duckett Creek Sewer District WWTF #1, Duckett Creek Sewer District WWTF #2, O’Fallon, and Wentzville), Branson (Cooper Creek and Compton Drive), Springfield Northwest, Interim Saline Creek Regional, Troy Southeast, Farmington East, Perryville Southeast, Columbia, St. Joseph, Atherton, Cape Girardeau, Nixa, West Plains, Washington, Oak Grove, Festus – Crystal City and Joplin Turkey Creek. “Our robust program for monitoring COVID-19 through sewershed sampling provides us with reliable information regarding the presence of the virus and its variants,” said Donald Kauerauf, DHSS Director. “The existence of the Omicron variant is becoming much more prevalent each week, making the actions of COVID-19 individual testing, vaccination and other mitigation measures more important as we already face the threat of the Delta variant and an increase in flu cases.” DHSS continues to recommend that residents follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings, frequent handwashing and maintaining physical distance from others.  “Gatherings are continuing during this holiday season, and I highly encourage testing before and after these events and any travels to help limit any unintended spread of the virus,” said Kauerauf. “If you’re not feeling well, stay home and don’t risk getting your loved ones sick. It is important for individuals to plan ahead when identifying a location and advance timing needed to get tested, as there is a growing demand for these services.” Public health experts worldwide are working quickly to learn more about the Omicron variant and how it may impact the health and safety of citizens. The disease severity caused by Omicron is still unknown. Scientists are also studying the degree to which existing vaccines and therapies protect against Omicron. The sequencing testing results are updated weekly and displayed in the COVID-19 sewershed surveillance StoryMap. The online storymap will be updated on Dec. 28 with the most recent variant data.
DHSS will continue to work with public health partners to monitor for an increase in the Omicron variant, as well as trends in other variants. To learn more about Missouri’s variant monitoring efforts, visit Health.Mo.Gov. Everyone 5 years and older is highly encouraged to protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated (and boosted if age 16 and older). Missourians should also take the opportunity to get their annual influenza vaccination as part of their risk reduction activities to protect themselves and others from seasonal respiratory illness. Travelers to the U.S. should continue to follow CDC recommendations for safe traveling.