Washington Doubles Down On Vaccines As Omicron Approaches

OLYMPIA, WA — There has been a lot of talk over recent days about omicron, the new, little-understood variant of the coronavirus, and while it is almost certainly coming to Washington state, local leaders say right now Washingtonians should focus on the current situation, and not panic about the future.

The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, but has since been discovered in several other countries, including Canada. America had its first confirmed case in California Wednesday, it has since been discovered in Minnesota and Colorado, and local health leaders say it likely either is already in Washington, or will be very soon.

We do not know — and likely will not know for at least a few weeks — if the omicron variant is more resistant to current COVID-19 vaccines. It’s also unclear if the new variant is more transmissible, or if it causes stronger or weaker symptoms.

But rather than worrying about the unknown, Washington’s leaders say now is the time to double down on what has worked in the past: vaccines, social distancing, and wearing masks. At a news conference discussing omicron Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee urged Washingtonians to seek out vaccination or booster shots, if they are eligible.

“It makes sense to get vaccinated today, no matter what we find out about omicron,” Inslee said. “Because today, we are threatened by delta.”

According to the governor, the state’s vaccine locator tool has seen a 75 percent traffic increase over weeks, which Inslee said was a promising sign that Washingtonians are seeking and receiving their booster shots. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of children have had their first shot over recent weeks as well: according to an update Thursday from the state Department of Health, over 129,000 Washington kids ages 5 – 11 have recieved at least one dose of the vaccine since they became eligible on Nov. 3.

Inslee was joined Thursday by Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah. Shah has spoken to the public about the omicron variant several times over the past week, and has consistently urged Washingtonians not to panic, but to prepare for the “inevitable” arrival of omicron in the Evergreen state.

“We want to continue to remind everybody, if you have not gotten your vaccine, please, this is a reason,” Shah said.

While everyday Washingtonians are being asked to carry on as usual and continue following current pandemic protocol, the state Department of Health is mobilizing for the variant’s arrival. Genomic sequencing, which will help identify the variant when it arrives, is being prioritized, with virologists sequencing somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of all Washington’s latest COVID-19 cases. The DOH will also be bolstering case investigation and contact tracing efforts, Umair said, and will continue to adapt as the world learns more about omicron.

“We’re watching what’s happening across the globe and across the country,” Shah said.

Source: Bellevue Patch