Omicron variant suddenly dominant in Orange County wastewater

Yet there have been no cases yet of people testing positive for the omicron variant.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to be emerging rapidly in Orange County and has almost instantly become the dominant form of the virus detected in the county’s wastewater treatment plants, officials announced Wednesday.

Still, there have been no cases  — zero — of Orange County residents testing positive for the omicron variant, which first appeared in South Africa last month, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said.

He and other Orange County officials said Wednesday the county’s regular tests of wastewater for presence of various COVID-19 variants went from finding no presence of omicron last week, to being first detected Monday, to becoming the most prevalent variant found in the most recent samples taken from each of the county’s three regional wastewater treatment plants.

The emergence is far faster than what was seen when the delta variant first appeared in June.

Yet county officials expressed hope and confidence that the county’s population is far better prepared now than it was at the outset of the summer’s deadly surge, because 78% of residents age 12 or older have received at least one dose of vaccine and 68% are fully vaccinated.

The county’s positive-test rate for coronavirus remains low, just 3.8%, compared to 9.2% this time last year. The number of new cases remains low too, though it climbed to 223 yesterday — the first time the county has seen more than 200 new cases in a single day since Oct. 7. All the serious cases requiring hospitalization in Orange County are delta cases, officials said.

“We’re in a much better place today than we were,” Demings said at a news conference updating the county’s COVID-19 status, his first in more than a month but 167th since the coronavirus crisis first set in in early 2020.

Nonetheless, he and other county officials urged people to get vaccinated, to complete their vaccinations, or at least to consider masking and social distancing as the new variant emerges.

Officials did not find it perplexing that omicron has become prevalent in wastewater tests but hasn’t yet shown up in medical tests or in any hospitals in Orange County.

Dr. Raul Pino, Orange County health officer with the Florida Department of Health, said it does not mean omicron is not as serious as delta. He predicted omicron patients likely will start appearing as soon as next week.

“I don’t think that we should read much into ‘we haven’t found it yet,'” Pino said. “Normally what happened in the other cases is about two weeks prior to the cases being detected it is detected in the water.”

Orange County Utilities Director Ed Torres said the omicron variant became dominant in wastewater sampling much more rapidly than delta did when it first appeared. He also cautioned that the most recent testing needs to be validated.

“The difference that we have seen between the delta and delta-plus variant compared with the omicron variant is how quickly it has shown through our wastewater samples,” Torres said. “With the delta and delta-plus we saw the gradual increase and with the alpha variant we saw it increasing slowly. This has been a much more rapid increase.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


  • zhombre

    December 15, 2021 at 6:07 pm

    Fear, fear, fear. Late at night while you’re sleeping, omicron comes a creeping all around …

  • Claude Kirk The Younger

    December 16, 2021 at 10:12 am

    Lions, Tigers, and Bears Oh My…how long before Fauci mandates everyone poop into diapers only!!!
    “That Omnicron could follow the waste water lines to your toilet and jump right up your butt”. “Follow The Science!!! Diaper Mandates For All”.

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