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As omicron surges in Washington state, flu begins spreading again after mostly dormant year

The flu is circulating in Washington this winter as a new variant of COVID-19 takes root.

SEATTLE — The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) revealed Tuesday that as the new omicron variant of COVID-19 is surging in the state, another older threat is also circulating.

After a very quiet 2020-2021 season, flu cases are beginning to rise in the state, particularly influenza A cases.

According to the weekly surveillance report, flu activity remains low, but the number of positive flu cases in the state is already higher through the first few weeks of flu season this year than all of last winter.

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According to the DOH influenza summary from last season, there were nine positive flu specimens sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from Washington. This year, there have already been more than 30 through the first four weeks of reporting.

The unusually low flu activity last season was accounted for by the safety measures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic including the closure of businesses and public masking requirements.

During Tuesday’s DOH briefing, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist expressed his concern over the new flu cases, which are coming as COVID-19 cases are expected to rise due to the apparently highly transmissible omicron variant.

As of Tuesday morning, 400 omicron cases have been identified in Washington, and the DOH has shifted its attention to track where the variant is and how it is performing compared to the delta variant in various regions around the state.

A recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in 14- to 19-year-olds has been linked to four high school wrestling tournaments in western Washington at the beginning of December. As of Tuesday morning, more than 350 COVID-19 cases have been linked to these outbreaks.

Now, officials are saying that it more important that individuals who have not gotten their COVID-19 and flu vaccines already do so immediately. As for omicron, officials say the most effective way to battle the new variant is to get a booster shot as soon as possible.

According to Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah, the most important thing for everyone looking to protect themselves against omicron is to protect against severe illness.

“So, it may be a confusing message to people, but it’s pretty clear. Get boosted. Get boosted. Don’t wait, get boosted,” Shah said.

As of Dec. 18, roughly 1.7 million booster doses have been given out across the state. As of Saturday, data shows that about 62% of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated.

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