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Unvaccinated man with health issues in Harris County becomes first known omicron death in US

According to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the patient was a man in his 50s who was not vaccinated and had an underlying health condition.

HOUSTON — After warnings of an omicron surge over the holidays, Harris County has reported its first death caused by the omicron variant of COVID-19. It's also the first known omicron death reported nationwide.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo made the announcement during an afternoon news conference. 

"My phone was ringing, I'm sure you guys noticed, and it was our public health director telling me we just had our first omicron-related death," she said.

According to Hidalgo, the patient was a man in his 50s who was not vaccinated and had an underlying health condition. He lived in Precinct 2. 

"I know, for folks in Harris County, this feels like whiplash," Hidalgo said. "It follows a downward trend in hospitalizations and cases, only to see things trend back up, and it is so frustrating."

Houston Methodist said Monday that 82% of its new cases are omicron after just three weeks of testing for it. It took delta three months to reach that point.

Texas Children's is also seeing hospitalizations and cases doubling and tripling over the last week.

“An upward trajectory that is steeper than anything we’ve seen previously during this pandemic," Dr. Jim Versalovic with Texas Children's Hospital said.

"Omicron is spreading incredibly quickly.  First, we know that an increasing number of cases in Harris county are related to omicron," Hidalgo said. "It’s more transmissible. The amount of time it takes for the number of omicron cases to double has been very worrisome. Early data shows its doubling in two to three days, according to the CDC. Just to give a point of comparison, the delta variant doubles every eleven days."

Like the delta variant, there have been breakthrough cases of omicron but Hidalgo said those vaccinated and boosted are much less likely to end up in the hospital.

Earlier today, the county raised the COVID alert threat back to orange.

The county's threat level scale advises residents to "minimize all contacts unless vaccinated."

VIDEO: Harris County Judge announces first omicron death in US

All of this is happening just days before Christmas.

Health officials say you should get tested before going to a gathering. Free testing is still available, but it’s getting busy.

“We will increase capacity if we do see that demand continue to increase. So we're prepared and ready to meet the demand of our community," Jennifer Kiger with Harris County Public Health said.

Appointments are hard to come by and at-home tests are hard to find, but this CVS website can tell you where they’re in stock.

"If you get tested two days before your family gathering, that's not as helpful as if you get tested the same day," City of Houston Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse advised.