The Omicron COVID-19 variant has been discovered in King, Pierce and Thurston counties, according to the Washington state Department of Health.
The DOH in partnership with the University of Washington Medicine’s Virology Lab discovered the three cases on Dec. 4. The patients range in age from 20 to 39, according to the DOH. The vaccination status of the three individuals is unknown at this point.
Washington is now the 13th state in the U.S. that has identified Omicron cases, said Dr. Umair Shah, Washington Secretary of Health
A woman in her twenties in King County contracted the new variant, according to the DOH. Samples were taken between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 and were confirmed at a lab in Washington. It is not likely the cases are related, according to the DOH.
“We knew that it was a matter of time before omicron was sequenced in our state and so we were anticipating this very news,” Shah said. “We strongly urge people to get vaccinated and get their boosters as soon as possible to maximize their level of protection from any variant.”
A lot is still unknown about the Omicron variant, such as how transmissible and severe it is, according to the DOH. However, preliminary data suggests the Omicron variant spreads more readily than the Delta variant, Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County Health Officer said.
In addition to this, people who have had COVID-19 in the past are more likely to be re-infected with Omicron, according to preliminary data, Duchin said.
The good news is that the tools we’ve been using to fight COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic will still work for the Omicron variant, Duchin said.
“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,” Duchin said.
Wearing face masks indoors, getting vaccinated, and avoiding large crowds are the best ways to protect yourself and others from all strains of COVID-19, including the Omicron variant, Duchin said.
Although there has only been one case of Omicron identified in King County, it is likely not the only one, and more cases are expected to be identified, according to King County Public Health.
The existence of the Omicron variant in Washington is not a reason to panic, but it is a reason to be concerned, Shah said.
“We may be tired of this virus but as Omicron and our current surge of Delta in our state show, this virus is certainly not tired of us,” Shah said.
A rapid surge of cases in Washington in which most infections and serious infections are among the unvaccinated is a possibility, Duchin said.
It’s not clear yet how effective the vaccines are at preventing Omicron but the high vaccination rate in Washington will likely help blunt the impact of a surge in cases, Duchin said.