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Omicron expected to surpass Delta in cases in King County by end of week, researchers say

(AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)
(AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)
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With Omicron now the dominant COVID-19 variant sweeping across the United States, it’s expected that by the end of the week, it will top delta in King County in terms of cases.

Researchers in Washington state are working feverishly to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to potential new variants.

In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan reported Monday 90 percent of eligible residents had received one dose of vaccine. Joined by health officials, they stressed the importance of getting vaccinated as omicron surges.

“Vaccines work,” Durkan said. “Boosters work.”

The rise of omicron comes as some tell KOMO News the virus is likely with us for good. With that, other variants will likely emerge as it continues to mutate.

“COVID isn’t going away,” said Dr. Trevor Bedford with Fred Hutch. “Every year there will be a COVID wave or a COVID season just like there’s a flu season.”

At the University of Washington’s Clinical Virology Lab, Dr. Alex Greninger and a team of scientists are preparing for whatever comes next.

“It’s hard to predict evolution of the virus,” he said.

In terms of omicron, he says despite its high number of mutations, it could be worse considering the pandemic has been going on for nearly two years. At this point, researchers have been able to identify which sites on the virus are capable of mutating. That said, they’re unable to predict exactly which mutations will actually occur.

Greninger compared it to chess in that you can predict the first set of moves but after that, the game changes. He said it is possible to manufacture vaccines in anticipation of what may come down the line in terms of mutations.

“It is a finite number of moves so you could actually have almost, as it were, insurance policies on the shelf," Greninger said.

For now, health officials seem to be optimistic about the current vaccines derived from the original COVID-19 virus. With omicron, early reports and data suggest people who have been vaccinated and received a booster are less likely to develop severe symptoms, leading to mild cases.

“Has the virus really given up its severity characteristics?" asked Dr. Larry Corey at Fred Hutch. “I have to say at the moment, I don’t think we know.”

Corey said research continues in the effort to figure that out. Right now, he said it’s unclear if less-severe cases are linked to the virus actually giving up its virulence or past immunity playing a role.

He and others are trying to answer that question and many others.

“We’re looking at can we really get ahead of this more frequently,” Corey said. “Can we design vaccines that have better durability? That prevent transmission? That cover way more strains so that we don’t seem to have to do this as frequently. All these things are out there.”


The holidays are spurring a clamor for COVID-19 testing, so is the threat of omicron.

“My brother and my mom have COVID-19 and I want to be safe,” said Eli Davis-Rudin who was getting tested in Shoreline.

Now that omicron quickly became the most dominant variant in our country, UW Medicine Virology Assistant Director Greninger said if someone catches COVID-19, they should assume its omicron.

“This thing is so transmissible and so many people are at risk" Greninger said. "It’s like a whole new coronavirus."

Greninger projects that when it comes to spread, Washington State is only a week behind New York City—where omicron has forced closures from Radio City Music Hall to Broadway.

“To me it’s indicative of why you should approach it with precautionary principal," Greninger said.

Health officials emphasize that getting the third vaccine shot is especially helpful with this variant and fighting breakthrough infections.

“You’ll get the best antibodies," Greninger said. "You’ll get the best protection. It gives you that broadening, that more maturation in the immune response and in the short run it drives the tide super high.”

While lockdowns or travel restrictions within the us haven't been announced, health officials said think about the greater good –by limiting exposure and spread.

“Get a vaccine," Greninger said. "Get a booster. Tighten your pod. Mask indoors. Tighten your pod."

Health officials testing is critical in this pandemic, and if people have symptoms, they should quickly isolate.

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To find a testing location in King County, click here.

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