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Omicron infections balloon from 10 to 400 in Washington

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 21, 2021

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 omicron variant of coronavirus continues to spread in Washington.

Last week, there were just 10 confirmed omicron cases in the state. State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said that there are now 400 confirmed omicron cases in Washington.

Early data show that boosters are offering protection against the omicron variant, though.

“The best booster is the one being offered to you,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah told reporters Tuesday.

So far, more than 1.7 million Washington residents have received a booster , but millions more are becoming eligible .

Appointments can be hard to come by, and health officials said they are working with the governor’s office to increase vaccine capacity in the state.

Shah encouraged people holding multiple appointments for booster shots to cancel the appointments they won’t use to free up space for others.

The goal continues to be to protect people from severe illness from COVID-19, health officials reiterated on Tuesday. It’s still too early for the Department of Health to say infections from omicron are mild, Shah said.

“If you have a significant number of people get infected with omicron, you will still get a proportion of people with serious illness,” he said.

Also, vaccination coverage is not even across the state . Counties in eastern Washington have lower vaccination rates than counties in the Puget Sound and northwestern Washington.

Hospital occupancy is also tight, running about 91% statewide, which is why health officials are pushing booster shots. Less severe COVID infections means fewer hospitalizations.

Projections before omicron came to Washington showed that this winter would mean tight capacity in hospitals, said Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, chief science officer at Department of Health.

“The more people we can keep out of the hospital, the more people we can keep alive,” Kwan-Gett said Tuesday.

With hospitals already packed and flu season on the way, health officials expressed concern about hospital capacity this winter.

“We’re starting to see the first cases of Influenza A in the state,” Lindquist told reporters Tuesday. “This is going to be a really unfortunate season where we have a new variant and flu.”

The Department of Health is now adjusting surveillance strategies to be able to detect how quickly the variant moves across the state.

Preliminary reports show that the new variant is more transmissible than the delta variant.

A recent outbreak involving omicron was connected to four high school wrestling tournaments held in western Washington. Lindquist said there are now 350 COVID cases connected to the tournaments.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 65 new COVID cases and one additional death on Tuesday.

There have been 1,136 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 61 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane hospitals.

The Panhandle Health District reported 106 new COVID cases and no additional deaths on Tuesday.

There are 65 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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