Omicron Variant Dominant in Wastewater in Florida County That's Home to Disney, Universal

As the new Omicron variant of COVID continues to appear in rising numbers across the globe, officials in Orange County, Florida, which houses Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, are detecting it much more often in samples of wastewater than in testing.

Wastewater samples from the county tested this week showed Omicron as the dominant variant, representing nearly 100 percent of the COVID strains found in the samples, Orange County Utilities spokesperson Sarah Lux told the Associated Press.

However, the patients who are being hospitalized in the county that contains two of the largest theme parks in the country are still mostly testing positive for the Delta variant.

Medical professionals and scientists are still determining the severity of cases from the Omicron variant, with data from South Africa showing it is possible the new variant could be more transmissible and resistant to vaccines than Delta, but may put less patients in the hospital if it does not cause illness as severe as Delta.

As more information is discovered about the variant heading into the holidays, scientists also said their thoughts on Omicron could change as hospitalizations have been a trend that follows weeks behind rises in cases.

Scientists and doctors across the globe are still recommending people get vaccinated, and for those eligible, officials encourage booster shots as soon as possible because early data shows a booster shot provides additional protection against Delta and Omicron.

The early data from South Africa, adjusted for vaccination rates, shows the current wave of hospitalizations that could show the beginnings of Omicron cases being hospitalized are about 29 percent lower than the wave the country experienced in mid-2020.

The data also showed those with two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had about 33 percent resistance to infection compared to unvaccinated people, but were about 70 percent less likely to be hospitalized from an Omicron infection.

Orange County, Florida, Omicron COVID, Wastewater
Orange County, Florida, which houses Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, is seeing an increase in Omicron strain of COVID appearing in wastewater samples. Above, the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is seen at the theme park on August 30, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. John Raoux/Associated Press File

It's a different story when it comes to people seeking treatment for COVID-19, officials said.

"Those who are hospitalized are being primarily infected by the Delta variant," Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said Wednesday at a news conference held at the Orlando International Airport.

Although tourist numbers have dropped since the start of the pandemic, tens of millions still travel to Orlando each year to visit the area's famous theme parks, including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Orange County, Florida, Omicron COVID, Wastewater
A visitor takes a selfie at Universal Studios theme park on the first day of reopening from the coronavirus pandemic, on June 5, 2020, in Orlando, Florida. Orange County, which houses Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World, is seeing a reported increase in Omicron strains of COVID appearing in samples of wastewater. Gregg Newton/AFP via Getty Images