Omicron variant surge to peak in late January in North Texas, UT Southwestern says

Researchers who forecast the impact of the pandemic in North Texas now estimate the peak of the omicron variant surge will happen around the end of January.

Right now, about one in three COVID tests in the state are coming back positive. That's up from about one in four last week.

The number of virus patients in North Texas hospitals is at more than 2,200, which is the highest since the October delta surge. The federal government will soon be providing additional testing sites in Dallas and Tarrant counties.

Texas' COVID positivity rate is the highest it’s been all pandemic. 

While omicron is less deadly, health officials say the vaccine is what’s keeping many out of the hospital and preventing more deaths. 

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It’s a new year, but the storyline is similar. The coronavirus is not going away, and we are in the midst of an omicron variant surge. 

Texas has a 33.9% positivity rate, which is a pandemic high. North Texas hospitals have the most COVID-19 patients since October. 

UT Southwestern researchers who forecast COVID's impact are pushing the omicron peak in our area from mid-January to the end of the month. 

Dr. Prathit Kulkarni is an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine. 

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"I think January is going to be tough for a variety of reasons," he said. "First, just the sheer number of people who are getting ill."

Dr. Kulkarni says while omicron is spreading like wildfire, it’s important to not only focus on cases. 

"Case counts are a trickier metric to follow. Now, obviously the numbers are astronomically high across the United States," he said. "It's partially related to the volume of tests being done."

Last week, Gov, Greg Abbott called on FEMA to open federal testing sites in Texas. The request from the governor also called for more staffing and treatment resources. 

Monday, FEMA approved six testing sites. Two of those will be in Dallas and Tarrant counties. 

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The Department of State Health Services confirmed those locations should open sometime next week. 

The workforce is also starting to feel the impact. 

Recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted the government's change in recommended isolation time from ten to five days for virus infected was made in part to get people back to work sooner. 

Dr. Kulkarni says more cases are impacting more than just healthcare workers being out of the office. 

"Also, other sectors of society that we need to be running can be impacted if a large number of people, not if they end up in the hospital," he said. "But they still have an illness that keeps them out of work for a significant number of days."

While early studies show omicron is less deadly, the unvaccinated remain at a greater risk. 

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DSHS data from fall 2021 before omicron showed the unvaccinated in Texas are 20 times more likely to die from COVID. 

"You may end up with natural immunity after the infection. But you're taking a big risk sort of doing that, especially if you're older, especially if you have medical problems and things like that," Dr. Kulkarni said. "So I wouldn't sort of put somebody's eggs in the basket. Well, let me rely on natural immunity."

DSHS says there will be an update later this week on the antibody treatment request from the governor to the feds. His staffing request could take longer.