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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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As omicron makes its West Coast debut, one-third of Washington state’s population remains vulnerable

Dec. 1, 2021 Updated Sun., Dec. 5, 2021 at 1:55 p.m.

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles.  (HOGP)
This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. (HOGP)

The new omicron variant of coronavirus was detected in California on Wednesday, and health officials say it’s only a matter of time before it’s detected in Washington.

Omicron will arrive when a third of Washington’s population is still vulnerable to the virus, according to state modeling, State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist told reporters Wednesday.

“That model shows us about 34%, or a third of the entire state’s population, is still vulnerable to this infection, and that means they aren’t vaccinated or haven’t been infected,” Lindquist said.

Everyone ages 5 and older is eligible to be vaccinated, and nearly 68% of the total population has received at least one dose.

In Spokane County, 57% of the total population has initiated vaccination.

Vaccination rates are not consistent across the state, however, and health officials have asked everyone to get vaccinated, including those who have tested positive for the virus.

Health officials also encouraged everyone who is eligible to get a booster dose of any COVID-19 vaccine. Anyone 18 and older who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine should receive a booster dose six months after their second dose. Anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should receive a booster dose two months after their initial shot.

It will take a few weeks for public health experts and scientists to learn more about the new omicron variant. State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said vaccines will remain effective, “we just don’t know to what degree.”

While preliminary data point to signs that omicron might be more infectious, Lindquist said it also will matter how effective vaccines and treatments, like the new oral medications and monoclonal antibodies, work against it.

Omicron doesn’t change the ways to prevent a new variant from spreading: Vaccines, masks, distancing and testing will all be vital to keeping the new variant at bay.

“In terms of travel, I do think we need to emphasize in this time of new variants, you should think about where you’re traveling to,” Shah said, noting that restrictions, vaccine and testing requirements differ depending on the location.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 218 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and five additional deaths.

There have been 1,098 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 66 patients hospitalized in Spokane with the virus.

The Panhandle Health District reported 127 new coronavirus cases and six additional deaths.

There have been 717 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 70 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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