First Omicron variant case reported in Pierce County, 2 other WA counties also see cases

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The Washington state Department of Health on Saturday announced the detection of the first Omicron variant cases of COVID-19 in Washington state, including one in Pierce County.

According to information from DOH, the patients are:

A man in his late 30s from Thurston County.

A man in his late 20s from Pierce County.

A woman in her late 20s from King County.

According to DOH, confirmation came midday Saturday. Details about the individuals’ conditions are unknown to DOH. Samples were collected between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 and confirmed at an in-state lab.

“This is early in the investigation, DOH does not believe the cases are related, but the travel history of the patients is unknown.”

Vaccination status of the Pierce and Thurston cases was not yet known Saturday night. In the King County case, the individual had been vaccinated and was likely exposed to the variant before receiving a recent booster dose, The Seattle Times reported Saturday.

Officials had warned that after the first case was detected in the United States earlier this week that it was only a matter of days before detection in this state.

“Not a time to panic. It is what it is,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah during Wednesday’s news briefing.

On Saturday, he repeated that message.

“We have been saying it’s not a matter of if but when that we would find Omicron in our state, and that when is today,” he said. “We have been preparing for this moment.”

Shah said Washington now is the 13th state to report the presence of Omicron, with the U.S. among nearly 40 countries reporting cases.

Washington COVID genetic sequencing labs have been on the search for the variant in the state since its global emergence in late November, with priority given in contact and case investigations around anyone who’s traveled from a country that has already reported Omicron.

At Saturday’s news briefing with state and county health officials, all of them emphasized the critical importance of vaccinations at this point with the new variant.

“it’s possible we may see a rapid and potentially large surge in cases, with most infections, and most serious infections expected among the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Seattle and King County.

He added while it is too soon to tell, a rapid rise in cases could be imminent, given Omicron’s pattern of spread in South Africa.

“I think who are really vulnerable are unvaccinated communities. This is where cases can spread exceptionally fast, where we’ll see more not only more transmission and more disease, but also probably the burden of severe illness.”

A high level of vaccination, Duchin noted, “is building a wall of protection for us against the current Delta and against future variants.”

Nigel Turner, division director of communicable disease for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, said Saturday that the county has plenty of vaccine to accommodate demand as of now.

“We actually have capacity that’s available on a walk-in basis at locations in Pierce County,” he said. “We’ve seen some increase in demand for boosters recently which is encouraging. So it’s very important to get the message out that the vaccine is available. We will continue to monitor the demand and make sure we have added capacity to meet the need.”

Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases with the state DOH, implored people to answer their phones if a public health official called them in contact tracing and case investigation.

“What we’re asking is if you are a person who was ill is to isolate yourself and not expose additional people. Don’t go to work, don’t go to school, and help public health with your contacts so we know who your contacts are so we can get them in a safe space so they don’t infect others if they become symptomatic and test positive, and then making sure everyone has access to testing and anything that’s needed for isolation and quarantine.”

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