The omicron variant of the coronavirus has taken hold in King County and is now spreading rapidly, meaning the number of coronavirus infections could skyrocket to more than three times the peak of the region’s delta wave as soon as next week, local virologists and public health leaders said Friday.
While omicron’s spread is a few days ahead in other countries, like those in the U.K., the Seattle area remains a bit ahead of the curve in the United States, likely because of the region’s strong testing data.
In a news briefing Friday afternoon, King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin warned of the variant’s high transmissibility, urged vaccinations and boosters and encouraged residents to reconsider holiday travel plans in the next few weeks.
“The omicron outbreak we’re talking about is no longer theoretical,” Duchin said. “It’s here and it’s moving fast.”
The variant that first emerged in South Africa in October and was first identified in Washington state about two weeks ago is now leading to a doubling of daily infections every two to three days, Trevor Bedford, a scientist with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said Friday.
Bedford pointed to data from the University of Washington’s virology lab, which has been sequencing the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, showing about 40% of all positive coronavirus samples have a spike-gene mutation, a deletion in omicron’s spike protein that helps identify the variant. The results mean nearly half of positive samples are likely omicron.
Last week, about 13% of samples had the mutation.
“We don’t know exactly what the case counts will be in January in King County, but I’m certain they’ll be higher than they’ve ever been,” Bedford said.