Local hospitals bracing for omicron variant

SEATTLE — On Monday, local hospital officials said they believed the omicron variant is already in the state, despite there not being a positive confirmation.

“As soon as Omicron is here, we’ll be one of the first to pick it up,” said Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant director of the Clinical Virology Labs at UW Medicine.

Greninger said they sequence roughly 800 to 1,000 positive COVID-19 tests per week.

They started trying to screen for the omicron variant over the weekend, but they haven’t yet found a confirmed case.

“We have the ability to get rapid screening for omicron, and we have a great sequencing capacity in Washington state, so we’re well set up in that regard.”

Greninger touted the state’s sequencing efforts as among the best in the country.

In a press briefing on Monday, hospital officials said they are ready, but wary of the potential implications from the latest variant of concern.

“We’re in a pretty serious place of worry,” said Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association.

Hospital officials from across the state said they’re still reeling from the delta surge.

They hope to open up nonelective surgery appointments in the next few months, but they stressed it could be dependent on how severe the omicron variant proves to be.

“We don’t have enough space right now, people’s care is being delayed,” said Sauer. “And hospitals should not be used for housing essentially for people who do not need hospital care.”

As the science community learns more about the omicron variant in the coming weeks, state experts stressed it doesn’t help to panic over a variant that remains largely unknown.

“I think that we handled Delta. We’ll handled the next one that comes along,” said Greg Repetti, president of MultiCare Deaconess and Valley Hospital in Spokane.

“I don’t think it does anybody any good to panic. I think it does everybody good to think.”

Repetti stressed the need to get vaccinated, including the booster, as well as the importance of wearing a form-fitting mask in the coming weeks.

Many in Seattle have echoed difficulties of finding a booster appointment.

Dr. Connie Davis, regional vice president and chief medical officer at Skagit Regional Health, said they are booking appointments at roughly two weeks out.

Davis said it might be best to try a walk-up option.

A spokesperson with UW Medicine said they had a recent shipment of vaccines delayed due to the Thanksgiving holiday.