Washington seeing ‘rapid rise’ of omicron variant cases leading into holiday season

Dec 15, 2021, 5:45 AM | Updated: 12:05 pm
Washington omicron variant, Sea-Tac cancellations...
Travelers wear masks as they wait in a line for a TSA security check, Dec. 10, 2021, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Just two weeks after it was first detected in Washington, the omicron variant now appears to be spreading widely.

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

In a test of just over 200 recent positive COVID-19 cases, University of Washington researchers found that roughly 13% of samples contained the variant strain, an increase from 7% just a day earlier, and 3% the day before that. Up until this month, the delta variant had comprised nearly all of the state’s COVID cases.

That’s part of what UW biologist Pavitra Roychoudhury labeled a “rapid rise, similar to reports in South Africa, UK, and Denmark.”

While it’s unclear whether the new variant will overtake delta entirely, it appears likely that it will continue to increase in prevalence either way.

“There is an inevitable very large wave of omicron,” Fred Hutchinson scientist Dr. Trevor Bedford told the New York Times. “It’s going to happen.”

That said, Bedford also posited in a recent Twitter thread that “it’s by no means definite” that delta will be completely phased out in the days ahead.

“Intuitively, the more immune escape omicron has from delta-specific immunity the more the two variants have distinct ecological niches and so are able to co-exist without stepping on each other’s toes,” he noted.

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

Moving forward, there is still a level of uncertainty surrounding whether omicron cases are less severe, or if a potential increase in cases would be accompanied by more hospitalizations across the region. The UW Virology lab will continue to monitor and test COVID samples in the meantime as part of ongoing efforts to track the spread of the omicron variant.

The Washington State Department of Health confirmed Dec. 4, 2021, that three cases of omicron were found across the state in King, Thurston, and Pierce counties. The King County resident who tested positive for the variant had not reported any recent travel. Because of that, the belief is that it has been spreading locally, with local health officials warning that they “expect to see more cases confirmed in our region in the coming days and weeks.”

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Washington seeing ‘rapid rise’ of omicron variant cases leading into holiday season