WASHINGTON — Since the omicron coronavirus variant was first identified as a “variant of concern” last weekend, Washington’s top health leaders have consistently said it was only a matter of time until the variant reared its head in the Evergreen State.
Looks like they were right, because three cases of the omicron variant were discovered in Washington Saturday, one each in Thurston, Pierce and King Counties.
Virologists confirmed the cases midday Saturday, the Department of Health said, so the three patients are still being informed. As such, they have only been identified as:
- A man in his thirties from Thurston County.
- A man in his twenties from Pierce County.
- And a woman in her twenties from King County.
While those cases are the first, they’re unlikely to be the last, and virology labs across the state will continue to operate at full capacity to try and identify future cases.
“We suspected that the omicron variant was circulating in our region, and now our laboratory has confirmed the first three cases in Washington state by viral genome sequencing in the last 24 hours,” said Dr. Geoffrey Baird, chair of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at UW Medicine.”Throughout the pandemic, it’s been a huge team effort by the UW Medicine Virology Laboratory, requiring development and implementation of several diagnostic and sequencing assays to detect and confirm the variety of COVID-19 variants that have surfaced in Washington state.”
Little is known about the omicron variant, including whether or not it is more resistant to COVID-19 vaccines than other strains, how transmissible the new strain is, and whether it causes more mild or more severe symptoms than other variants. But while researchers continue to study the variant, local health leaders are urging Washingtonians to stay the course, and continue following previously established pandemic safety guidelines.
“We knew that it was a matter of time before omicron was sequenced in our state and so we were anticipating this very news,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “We strongly urge people to get vaccinated and get their boosters as soon as possible to maximize their level of protection from any variant.”
The appearance of a new variant is frustrating after nearly two years of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, but doctors say this isn’t going to be like the record-breaking delta wave, because this time Washington is prepared.
“Even with a highly mutated virus like omicron, we are not going back to square one of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County’s top health official. “Omicron may pose new challenges that we will need to respond to, but compared to the early days of the pandemic, we know much more about COVID-19, and we’re better prepared for it. We know layered protections work together to maximally reduce risk, and that will continue to be the case for delta and for omicron if that becomes a dominant strain circulating in our community.”
Like other health experts across the nation, Duchin is also stressing the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, and seeking out vaccination or booster shots if you are eligible for either.
“If there is room for improvement in how we are using our current tools and strategies, this is a good time to make those improvements, especially vaccination and booster doses when eligible, good-quality masks indoors, improving indoor air quality and avoiding crowded indoor spaces along with other COVID-19 prevention measures,” Duchin said.
Source: Bellevue Patch