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Omicron variant still poses unknowns

State health officials said Dec. 21 there have been 400 Omicron variant cases logged so far, and the first in Snohomish County appeared last week.
The highly mutated variant of COVID-19 still has a number of questions surrounding it: How severe does it sicken people? How easily does it spread?
Early research suggests the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could fight infection from the Omicron variant. These particular vaccines use Messenger RNA (mRNA) to trigger immunity.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is composed differently, and its maker said Nov. 29 it is evaluating its vaccine’s strength against Omicron.
State health leaders are compiling data to identify where the Omicron variant is more prevalent in Washington state compared to the Delta variant of COVID-19. Some counties are reporting a majority of cases are now Omicron cases, but that does not represent the situation of the whole state, state Department of Health epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said at a Dec. 21 press conference.
The state is on the leading edge of mapping variant cases, Lindquist said.
How Omicron operates is not fully understood. Contrasting research reports can’t confirm whether it is milder than the Delta variant.
It’s becoming common consensus, though, that like Delta, Omicron is more contagious than the original COVID-19.
Because it is so mutated, laboratory tests suggest it also appears capable of reinfecting people who previously survived prior variants of COVID-19. The variant was first identified in late November by scientists in South Africa.
“What’s important now is not just the numbers but the severity of Omicron,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said at a Dec. 21 press conference. “Our health care system is absolutely stretched and strained right now” and still is taking patients sickened by the Delta variant.
Health authorities emphasize that vaccinated individuals should get a booster.
Both Pfizer and Moderna recently said their booster doses likely provide protection from the Omicron
strain, said SheAnne Allen, the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Director.
As of Dec. 20, about 526,300 county residents — three-quarters of everyone age 12 and up — are considered fully vaccinated, and of those, 180,600 have had their third booster shot on top. People vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna are eligible for a booster shot six months after their second dose; or two months if vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
On Dec. 17, the state Department of Health recommended adults select the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine instead of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could affect blood clots and low blood platelet counts. This is in line with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) workgroup’s recommendation, Allen said.
Upward of 1 million people in the state will become eligible for a booster shot in January because of the timelines, Allen said.

At-home tests coming
President Biden’s administration announced Dec. 21 that millions of free at-home COVID-19 rapid antigen tests will be distributed. The state is working to obtain these.
It’s not known how well they work against Omicron, and they are not perfect, Lindquist said.
“If you do one of these tests, and it’s negative, and you have symptoms, then you need to go talk with your health care provider and get a higher level of testing. That is what my recommendation would be,” Lindquist said.
In separate news, high school wrestling events now account for more than 350 new COVID-19 cases as of Dec. 21.

Public COVID-19 testing
The Snohomish Health District’s COVID-19 testing sites are closed Dec. 28vbecause of snow and might also be closed Dec. 29 and 30.
Both sites are closed Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 for the New Year's holiday.
Appointments for testing are required. Register at

For questions about vaccines
The state has a hot line at 1-833-VAX-HELP (1-833-829-4357).



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