SEATTLE — A Seattle hospital leader said Thursday that omicron has become the dominant coronavirus variant in King County and much of western Washington.
Dr. John Lynch, Harborview Medical Center's medical director for infection prevention and control, said in a statement that the super-infectious omicron variant will soon overtake delta throughout the rest of the state.
The omicron variant spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, and federal health officials said Monday it is now the dominant version of the virus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week.
"We're going to see [omicron] replace the delta strain in eastern Washington and north and south Washington here very soon," said Lynch. "It moves incredibly quickly, and it's just a matter of days to weeks before that's the case."
Lynch said healthy people who are fully vaccinated against the virus and have received a booster shot “should mostly expect cold-like symptoms” if they get sick from the omicron variant.
Lynch urged anyone who tests positive for the virus, regardless of vaccination status or if they are experiencing symptoms, should reconsider attending any holiday gatherings.
"I know how hard this is for everyone,” said Lynch. “As someone who's been dealing with this, as someone who sees patients with this, as someone who's been working very hard for two years now to prevent new cases – if that happened to me, I would stay home if my antigen test was positive. Even if I had no symptoms, I would assume that that test is correct, given how much COVID there is out there."
Although some early reports say the omicron variant is less severe than previous variants, Washington state health officials continue to sound the alarm.
As Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) Executive Vice President Taya Briley explained Thursday, the state and the rest of the country are faced with “a math problem” due to the apparent high transmissibility of the new variant.
“Even if most people don’t get really sick, there are a lot of people who are getting infected with omicron, and some portion of them will get severely ill and need hospital care. Even if it's a small portion of the overall total, this could mean a huge number of people getting sick enough to need hospitalization,” Briley said during a WSHA briefing.
Many Washingtonians are using rapid at-home COVID-19 tests before gathering or traveling this holiday season to ensure they’re not putting their loved ones at risk.
To help alert the public they might be a close contact, the WA Notify app is expanding its features to include results from at-home COVID-19 test results in its exposure notifications. The new feature allows those who test positive for COVID-19 with an at-home test to anonymously notify others about any potential exposure.
The WA Notify app works by giving those who receive a positive test result a verification code that is then reported to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). The DOH said the new feature increases the number of people who can benefit from the app’s notifications since it increases the number of tests it uses.
The new feature gives those who take at-home tests the option to get a verification code if they test positive.
Since the app was launched in November 2020, the DOH says more than 2.75 million people have enabled WA Notify on their phones. This equates to nearly 45% of all smartphone users in the state.