No confirmed COVID Omicron variant cases in Washington yet; hospital leaders urge booster shots

As the COVID-19 Delta variant surge is slowing down, global concern for the new Omicron variant is picking up

The Washington State Hospital Association held its weekly virtual briefing on Monday, and the variant was part of the discussion. Health professionals said the news of another mutation of coronavirus is unsettling, but they are urging the public to stay calm and be cautious.

"I don’t think it does anybody any good to panic. I think it does everybody good to think and think means get vaccines, boosters, masking, social distancing, washing your hands. Those things work," said Greg Repetti, president of MultiCare Deaconess and Valley Hospital in Spokane.

Omicron was first identified in South Africa the week of Nov. 24, and has been detected in more than a dozen countries so far. Though it has not been reported in the U.S. yet, health professionals with the Washington State Department of Health said they believe the variant is already here. Officials with DOH said their laborites are prepared to test for Omicron, and further noted Washington is one of the top states in the country for genotype sampling.

"We have not come across any genotypes that are the Omicron genotype at this point. We upload all of our genotypes into a national database, and so we’re quite aware of what omicron is and where it is. But have just not seen it here in Washington state," said Dr. Scott Lindquist with DOH.

Health leaders with the hospital association said they’re still learning about this new variant, but believe it has potential to be highly transmissible.

RELATED: Moderna testing 3 COVID-19 booster vaccines on omicron variant, Pfizer ready to adapt

"I would not be at all surprised about Omicron cases being reported here in the U.S. in the next few days or in the very near future. And as we continue to hear about these variants every few months, we will continue to hear about them until we are better able to achieve vaccine equity globally," said Dr. Seth Cohen, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at University of Washington Medical Center.

DOH said more than 74% of Washingtonians ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated. 

Representatives from local health departments said thousands of people have also received a booster shot or third dose of the vaccine.

These counties have released their booster numbers: 

  • King County: Approximately 400,000
  • Kitsap County: 37,737
  • Pierce County: Approximately 85,000
  • Snohomish County: Approximately 106,000

Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of the hospital association, said a vaccine is still the best protection against any variant of coronavirus.

RELATED: Omicron variant: CDC expands COVID-19 booster recommendation to all adults 18 and older

"If you’re vaccinated, get a booster. If you have no vaccine, really get a vaccine. That is key. If you are unvaccinated now, you are at such risk," said Sauer.

"Vaccines still remain a really vital backbone in our fight against COVID-19," said Cohen.

During the hospital association virtual briefing, Sauer mentioned there are still about 10 to 15 COVID-19 related deaths reported daily in Washington. She said hospitalization numbers continue decreasing, but urge people to ramp up their safety measures once again to avoid overcrowding in local hospitals.

As more research develops about Omicron, health professionals encouraged everyone to continue social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask.  

"We handled Delta. We’ll handle the next one that comes along," said Repetti.

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