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UW Virology: ‘A matter of time’ before omicron variant surfaces in Washington

Dec 1, 2021, 12:50 PM
Omicron variant...
Travelers at a TSA screening checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The first confirmed case of the omicron variant in the United States was detected in California on Wednesday. In Washington, local health leaders believe the variant is likely to surface in the state sometime soon.

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

Researchers at UW Virology say they are on the lookout for omicron in the wake of its recent arrival in the United States, and that while there’s a chance it could already be spreading in Washington, it has yet to put down firm roots.

“It’s likely at pretty low frequency right now, given that we haven’t picked it up in samples from the last couple of weeks,” UW Medicine Instructor of Laboratory Medicine Pavitra Roychoudhury said in a news release.

That said, the prevailing thought is the variant will “inevitably” turn up in Washington in the days ahead.

“I think it’s a matter of time, given how connected the world is (and) given how much travel has been occurring over the last few weeks and months,” Roydchoudhury posited.

The lab at UW Virology — which operates as part of UW Medicine — was among the first in the state to detect the delta variant. Roychoudhury expressed confidence Wednesday in the lab’s ability to eventually track and identify the omicron variant once it starts to spread more prominently.

Little is known about the new variant at this time. Although South Africa — where it’s believed to have originated — is experiencing a rise in COVID-related hospitalizations, it’s unclear if that can definitively be linked to omicron.

Meanwhile, Washington state officials have expressed that the arrival of the variant won’t change the current approach to the pandemic.

Local leaders: Emerging omicron variant ‘does not change our approach to fighting pandemic’

“I’m not as interested in getting technology to find out what variant that you have, because it’s not going to change what you do,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state department of health’s chief science officer, in a Wednesday briefing.

As we approach the holiday season, health leaders continue to urge people to get vaccinated and/or boosted, wear masks in public places, and follow all quarantine procedures in the event of a positive COVID test.

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UW Virology: ‘A matter of time’ before omicron variant surfaces in Washington