Omicron COVID-19 variant discovered in three counties across Washington

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH), in partnership with the UW Medicine Virology Lab, has confirmed a total of three cases of omicron variant found in Thurston County, Pierce County, and King County. The patients range in age from 20 to 39, two men, one woman.

The patients are:

  • a man in his thirties from Thurston County,
  • a man in his twenties from Pierce County, and
  • a woman in her twenties from King County.

Confirmation came in midday Saturday, and patients are still being informed. Details about their 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.

Little is known clinically about the omicron variant at this time. Researchers are working to learn more about it, but it was found here quickly thanks to increased surveillance efforts; lab specialists have been looking for omicron through PCR testing and genomic sequencing. The state also increased its lab capacity to detect genetic markers associated with new and existing variants.

Sequencing has been prioritized for anyone with travel history or close contact with a confirmed case. Case investigation and contact tracing among those at higher risk for contracting and spreading omicron has been prioritized. Travelers who have been to a country or state with omicron, or anyone identified as a close contact, receives that prioritization.

“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 Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “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 best protection from this variant and others comes from getting vaccinated and getting boosters as soon as possible. This is especially important for children and adults with chronic conditions that place them at higher risk for severe disease from COVID-19.

“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, Public Health – Seattle & King County. “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.”

“If there is room for improvement in how we are using our current tools and strategies, this is a good time to make those improvements, especially vaccination and booster doses when eligible, good-quality masks indoors, improving indoor air quality and avoiding crowded indoor spaces along with other COVID-19 prevention measures,” Duchin said.

“We suspected that the omicron variant was circulating in our region, and now our laboratory has confirmed the first three cases in Washington state by viral genome sequencing in the last 24 hours. Throughout the pandemic, it’s been a huge team effort by the UW Medicine Virology Laboratory, requiring development and implementation of several diagnostic and sequencing assays to detect and confirm the variety of COVID-19 variants that have surfaced in Washington state,” said Dr. Geoffrey Baird, chair of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at UW Medicine. To date, the laboratory has tested approximately 3.8 million COVID-19 samples.