Three cases of omicron variant found in Washington state

MyNorthwest Editor

The Washington State Department of Health has confirmed there are three cases of omicron variant of COVID-19 in Washington state.

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The cases include two men and one women, ages range from 29-39.

The patients are: a man in his late 30s from Thurston County; a man in his late 20s from Pierce County; and a woman in her late 20s from King County

It’s not yet known the travel histories, nor the vaccination status of these three individuals. Samples were collected between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1.

“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, state secretary of health, in a news release. “We strongly urge people to get vaccinated and get their boosters as soon as possible to maximize their level of protection from any variant.”

The DOH says lab specialists have been looking for omicron through PCR testing and genomic sequencing. The state increased its lab capacity to help detect new and existing variants. It says it expects more cases will be discovered in Washington state in the future.

As for behaviors, health officials maintain that the most powerful tool we have are vaccinations.

“We don’t have any restrictions or lockdowns currently,” Dr. Shah said.

He said they want people to go about their day safely, and that means using caution by wearing masks, keeping a safe distance, getting vaccinated, and getting tested if you have any COVID symptoms.

“We do not have plans for anything more than that,” Shah said. “We can never say never, but at the same time, there are no plans for that.”

“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 with Public Health – Seattle & King County in a news release. “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. We know layered protections work together to maximally reduce risk, and that will continue to be the case for delta and for omicron if that becomes a dominant strain circulating in our community.”

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King County Executive Dow Constantine released a statement: “Health leaders from around the country and around the world are studying this new variant, and I’m confident we’ll know soon if there are any additional precautions people should take. As families get ready to gather for the holidays, take the time to get vaccinated now to give you and your family the best protection against COVID.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan released a statement Saturday night. It reads, in part:

“In the coming days and weeks, we will learn more about the transmission and severity of Omicron from the scientists and researchers, but here’s what we know: vaccines work, boosters are key, and testing remains critical. We should continue to wear masks at indoor gatherings, remember to wash our hands frequently, understand the risks of crowded indoor spaces and stay home and away from others if you have symptoms.

“In Seattle, we’ve launched efforts to deliver tens of thousands of booster shots and pediatric shots before the holidays and are working with our partners to make more appointments available. We continue to have easy, fast, and accessible testing through our partnerships with UW Medicine and Curative. While all of us want the pandemic to be over, we need to all do our part to keep one another and our community safe.”

More and mores states across the country have found the newest variant, with Massachusetts and Connecticut announcing their first cases Saturday, a day after New Jersey, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Maryland reported their first confirmed cases. Missouri reported its first presumed case Friday.

The variant also has been detected in Nebraska, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Colorado and Utah.

In New York, seven cases of omicron variant have been found in New York City, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, and another in Suffolk County.

Meanwhile, 10 people aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship approaching New Orleans have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Saturday night. The Norwegian Breakaway departed the city on Nov. 28 and was due to return this weekend after making stops in Belize, Honduras, and Mexico in recent days, Louisiana’s health agency said. More than 3,200 people are on board. Officials did not immediately say whether the passengers had been tested for virus variants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.