Washington state confirms first 3 cases of omicron variant

SEATTLE (AP) — The first three cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have been confirmed in Washington state, officials said Saturday.

The cases were found in three counties: Thurston, Pierce and King, according to the Washington Department of Health. The patients — two men and a woman — range from 20 to 39 years old.

Samples from the three were collected between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1, and the cases were confirmed at an in-state lab.

The department noted the investigation is still early and details are not yet known on the patients’ travel histories. However, it said it does not believe the cases are related.

“We knew that it was a matter of time before omicron was sequenced in our state, and so we were anticipating this very news,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said in a release. “We strongly urge people to get vaccinated and get their boosters as soon as possible to maximize their level of protection from any variant.”

Details about the patients’ conditions weren’t immediately released.

Much remains unknown about omicron, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it can thwart vaccines and whether it makes people as sick as the original strain.

Given the realities of international travel, scientists said it was inevitable that the omicron variant would be discovered in the U.S., and they believe it may have been spreading in the country before it was detected. The variant has been confirmed in multiple states.

The coronavirus is continually evolving, but most mutations are inconsequential. At this point, scientists are trying to figure out whether omicron spreads more easily or causes more severe disease than the delta variant. They are also studying how well the current vaccines work against it.