The Washington State Department of Health made the announcement Saturday. Prior to this, health officials noted they were treating their response to the pandemic as if the variant already existed in the state.
Governor Jay Inslee says three cases of the Omicron variant have been detected, and the DOH confirmed the patients are a Thurston County man in his 30s, a Pierce County man in his 20s and a King County woman in her 20s.
These cases were confirmed Saturday afternoon at an in-state lab, DOH says.
Health officials do not believe these cases to be related, but they do not know the people’s travel history. DOH says very little is known about the new variant, but researchers were able to detect Omicron quickly because of increased surveillance.
“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 Secretary of Health Umair Shah. “We strongly urge people to get vaccinated and get their boosters as soon as possible to maximize their level of protection from any variant.”
“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,” said Dr. Geoffrey Baird of UW Medicine. “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.”
Officials still urge people to get the vaccine, which remains the best protection from COVID-19 and its variants.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued the following statement after DOH’s announcement:
“While Omicron is the latest chapter of our battle with COVID-19, our residents and businesses know the steps we all can take to keep our community safe and healthy together. This pandemic has been so hard, but during every wave Seattle has done what it needed and emerged with the lowest cases, hospitalizations, and mortality rates of every major city in America. We have listened to public health and followed the science. It’s why Seattle has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, widespread testing, masking requirements, and vaccine verification.
“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.”
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