HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Hopes for a normal Christmas might be dashed by the newly discovered omicron variant. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are increasing after Thanksgiving.

For most of 2021, the Delta variant was the dominant strain of COVID-19. However, since omicron was discovered last month – the new variant now accounts for a majority of new cases. 

“Just in three weeks, this has become 73 percent of the cases in our country,” said Dr. Ivan Melendez, the Hidalgo County Health Authority. “And from yesterday, from 12 percent to 72 percent.”

Melendez said the Omicron variant is most likely the dominant variant in the Rio Grande Valley already. Testing for variants of COVID-19 is expensive and only done in certain laboratories, whereas normal COVID-19 testing can be done in almost any lab with a PCR machine.

COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations are starting to rebound.

“Our numbers are up 20 percent across the board, even today in our community, in Hidalgo County. We’re almost 80 patients, while last week we were in the 50s and the week before we were in the high 40s,” Melendez said.

Health experts encourage people to continue to be cautious if they are going to visit family this Christmas.

While omicron doesn’t appear to be more dangerous than delta, it does seem to be more contagious, even for the fully vaccinated.

“It seems that many people are being infected with omicron, even though they’re fully vaccinated. Its just that the severity doesn’t progress compared to those that are fully vaccinated,” explained Melendez.

Large cities are starting to see longer lines at COVID testing centers. Melendez said there isn’t a shortage of testing kits in the valley right now.

“If you’re insured or if you have money, down here in the valley there hasn’t been much of an issue going to CVS or Walgreens and buying a test. But those people who do not, cannot afford to test. Those people who cannot go into the Walgreens, those are the ones who are having problems,” said Melendez.