WASHINGTON, USA — The omicron variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in three people in three separate counties across Washington, according to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
The UW Medicine Virology Lab confirmed three cases of the omicron variant, with one each in Thurston, Pierce and King counties.
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
Confirmation came in midday Saturday, according to the DOH. The samples were collected between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 and were confirmed in an in-state lab.
The DOH doesn't believe the cases are related, but the travel history of the patients is unknown, according to a release.
The omicron variant was identified in Washington through PCR testing and genomic sequencing, according to the DOH. The state has increased its lab capacity to detect genetic markers associated with new and existing variants.
“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 Dr. Umair A. Shah, the Washington State 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.”
In a press briefing, Shah said he anticipates more omicron cases will be confirmed in the coming days.
"Even with a highly mutated virus like omicron, we are not going back to square one of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health – Seattle & King County. “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."
The state is prioritizing sequencing for anyone with a travel history or close contact with a confirmed case. Travelers who have been to a country or state with confirmed omicron cases, or anyone identified as a close contact with someone who tested positive, will receive that prioritization, the DOH said.
"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," Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement Saturday. "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."