With omicron likely to appear here, officials urge boosters

Washington’s state epidemiologist said it could be weeks before we know more about the new coronavirus variant.

OLYMPIA — The first identified case of the omicron variant in the United States is fueling a renewed call for residents of Washington to get vaccinations and booster shots.

On Wednesday, authorities confirmed a person in California, who had been vaccinated against COVID-19, was sickened by the new strain of the coronavirus.

Preparing for the likelihood the variant will reach Washington, state officials are asking genotyping labs to help in the search for the variant.

“It’s going to get here,” Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters Tuesday. The delta variant continues to be the dominant strain, he said. Vaccinations will provide “significant protection” against COVID, he said.

It’s “not time to panic,” state Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said Wednesday. It’s the same advice President Joe Biden offered earlier this week before curtailing travel from some African countries in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

Much is still unknown about the omicron variant, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist told reporters. That includes how easily it’s passed from person to person, or how effective vaccines and antiviral medications can fight it.

“We’re talking weeks before we start getting some of this information,” Lindquist said.

At this point, he said, the variant does not seem to be any deadlier than the delta variant.

Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters urged people to continue masking, distancing and ensuring indoor ventilation to prevent transmission.

The emergence of omicron, he said, “is a somber reminder that elimination of COVID is an unlikely scenario.”

Meanwhile, top health officials are strengthening their recommendations for booster shots.

Previously, older Washingtonians and those with underlying conditions were told to get a booster, while all other adults were told they “may” get it. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 18 and older should seek a booster.

“Now the message is very simple. It’s very clear,” Shah said, adding later: “Please get your booster and get it today.”

Herald writer Jerry Cornfield and Herald news services contributed to this story.

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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