Omicron variant found in Washington state

WASHINGTON — The Washington State Department of Health announced Saturday that three cases of the omicron variant have been found in the state.

The cases were found in the Thurston, Pierce and King counties, and officials said the patients’ ages range from 20 to 39.

The patients are:

  • A man in his 30s from Thurston County
  • A man in his 20s from Pierce County
  • A woman in her 20s from King County

The DOH provided an update Dec. 8 about the condition of Omicron case in King County. Officials said the patient has a mild illness and has not required hospitalization. They also said there is no evidence of widespread exposure from the case.

The patient did not report any recent travel, suggesting the variant has been spreading locally.

DOH said it is in the early stages of investigating the cases and does not believe the cases are related. Health officials are still looking into the patients’ travel history.

Little is clinically known about the variant thus far, but researchers are working to find out more.

“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, Washington’s 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.”

Health officials said the best protection against the variant is to get vaccinated and get a booster shot as soon as possible. As well as continue masking up and avoid crowded indoor spaces.

“Even with a highly mutated virus like omicron, we are not going back to square one of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Seattle and King County’s public health officer. “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.

“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.

“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. 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,” said Dr. Geoffrey Baird, chair of laboratory medicine and pathology at UW Medicine. To date, the laboratory has tested approximately 3.8 million COVID-19 samples.

Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement concerning the variant cases:

“We knew this day was inevitable, but the good news is we have more tools at our disposal to fight the virus than at any previous point in the pandemic, and we must continue to protect ourselves and our communities.

“There is still much to learn about this variant as scientists around the world continue to study it. It remains as important as ever to get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask and be safe. We cannot yield an inch to this virus.

“Be vigilant for any symptoms – such as fever or fatigue – and mask up in public settings. We all have the power to keep our communities safe.”