Still ‘a lot we don’t know’ about omicron variant, says Washington hospital official

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As a new omicron variant has sparked concern across the globe, the good news in Washington state is that COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped in the past week.

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“The daily average was about 694 confirmed COVID hospitalizations, and last week it was 806 — so that’s about a 14% decrease in a week,” said Cassie Sauer, Washington State Hospital Association CEO.

But, as Sauer noted on Monday, deaths remain steady in Washington.

“We are continuing to see 10-15 hospitalized COVID deaths, on average, daily,” she said.

The number of patients requiring ventilators, Sauer said, has also gone up 16% compared to last week.

In global COVID news, the newest variant — called “omicron” to continue with the naming of variants after the Greek alphabet — has been found in at least 14 countries. It has already led to travel restrictions in some countries, but there are no reported cases in the United States yet.

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“I think about omicron and all variants as really a symptom of a true emergency, and that is lack of access to vaccines globally,” said Dr. Seth Cohen with the University of Washington Medical Center.

“Until we decrease the proportion of unvaccinated people in the U.S. and around the globe, we will continue to hear about new variants with some frequency every few months,” he added.

The new variant was first detected in South Africa last week.

“We don’t have any information to suggest that symptoms due to omicron are any different from any of the other variants,” Cohen clarified.

“Most importantly, I’d like to acknowledge that there is a lot that we do not know about this variant of concern,” he continued. “We will be learning much more about it in the coming days and weeks.”