Missouri remains vigilant in COVID-19 variant monitoring

November 30, 2021

JEFFERSON CITY- On November 26, the World Health Organization classified a new variant named Omicron, B.1.1.529, as a Variant of Concern. Staff with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) are working closely with federal officials to stay apprised of information that impacts the health and safety of Missourians.

Currently, no cases of this variant have been identified in Missouri or the U.S. State and local public health officials continue to closely monitor laboratory and environmental test results to identify any circulating variant in our communities, including Omicron. In Missouri, Delta accounts for over 99 percent of the variants currently being circulated.

To further enhance public health monitoring for variant SARS-CoV-2 viruses, Missouri healthcare providers have been submitting specimens from eligible individuals to the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory as part of the state’s variant surveillance program. These capabilities are supported through a partnership with the University of Missouri to provide bioinformatic analysis.

In partnership with researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia, DHSS and the Department of Natural Resources are continuing longstanding efforts within the Coronavirus Sewershed Surveillance Project. For nearly 18 months, the sewershed surveillance project has been testing community wastewater facilities weekly to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to help inform disease mitigation efforts. In February of this year the team was one of the first in the nation to begin conducting sequence monitoring of wastewater samples, which allows for identification of variant viruses present. Sewershed researchers say the project can provide early detection of an upcoming COVID-19 outbreak or emerging novel viral variants. The Omicron variant has not been detected in Missouri wastewater samples to date.

“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, DHSS director. “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. The most effective way to protect yourself or others from being impacted by COVID-19 variants is to get vaccinated or receive your booster dose when eligible.”

DHSS has been regularly providing the public with actionable information to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The agency continues to recommend that residents follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, frequent handwashing and maintaining physical distance from others.

Everyone five years and older is highly encouraged to protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated. 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.

“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,” said Kauerauf. “By getting vaccinated, we are doing our part to limit the impact of the current variants that are circulating in Missouri. There is no better time than today for individuals to get vaccinated, so you and your family can have a happy and healthy holiday season.”

Travelers to the U.S. should continue to follow CDC recommendations for safe traveling. Get the facts about COVID-19 vaccines in Missouri at MOStopsCovid.com. 

How Missourians can get a free COVID-19 vaccine:

* Check for vaccine appointments at Vaccines.gov, where you can search for availability by vaccine type (e.g., Pfizer).

* Call the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine hotline at 1-800-232-0233 (or TTY 1-888-720-7489). Help is available in multiple languages.

* Locate local vaccination events in Missouri at MOStopsCovid.com.

* Seniors and homebound adults can make arrangements using information at MOStopsCovid.com/seniors.

The Missouri DHSS Covid-19 Public Hotline can be reached at 1-877-435-8411, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.