Omicron surging in Washington

SEATTLE — Delta is still the big driver of COVID in Washington, but omicron is surging and bringing new worry.

University of Washington scientists are identifying the new variant through genomic sequencing and a telltale mutation.

“While the absolute numbers of omicron variant samples is still low, the trajectory is concerning in that it is rising quickly,” said Pavitra Roychoudhury of UW Medicine’s virology lab.

She said omicron made up 13% of the statewide positive samples tested on Dec. 8.

That’s up from 7% the day before, and 3% the day before that.

So far, omicron has not led to a surge in hospitalizations in the United States.

On Tuesday, Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Paul Burton, spoke to a parliamentary committee in the United Kingdom, rejecting the idea that the new variant is mild.

“I actually do not think omicron is a milder, less severe version of the current virus,” he said.

Burton said omicron and delta are likely to co-exist for months, and he raised the possibility that the people could become infected with both variants at the same time.

“Individuals will become co-infected which gives the opportunity for these viruses to continue to evolve and mutate, which is a concerning and worrying situation,” Dr. Burton said.

“I’m very concerned about complacency and my own intuition tells me there’s a lot of asymptomatic carriage of omicron,” said Dr. Larry Corey, a world-renowned infectious disease expert at Fred Hutch in Seattle.

“I think that practically means for people who aren’t vaccinated to get vaccinated and people who aren’t boosted to get boosted because it takes 15 to 20 times more antibody to neutralize this virus, than all the other viruses we had, including delta,” Corey said.

Corey said pregnant women and older adults particularly need vaccines and boosters.

During the holidays, he is personally wearing a mask more often, and using home tests before gatherings.

“I’m wanting us, as we go through family activities, to be selective,” he said.