SEATTLE — Seattle & King County officials urged people on Friday to prepare for a surge of omicron COVID-19 cases as the highly-infectious variant spreads through the region.
“The UW Medicine Virology Lab is testing 100 to 200 samples a day and has seen the variant quickly grow in a matter of days,” said Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant director, University of Washington Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratory.
Currently, more than one-third of the COVID samples they sequence are the omicron variant, he said, and officials expect omicron cases to potentially reach upward of 2,100 cases a day in King County alone by Dec. 22.
That means now is an important time for people to do what they can to limit the number of people becoming ill which could result in overloading Washington’s already stressed healthcare system, Seattle and King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said.
While the severity of omicron cases isn’t clear yet, Duchin said it is clear that this variant is going to find people — especially people who remain unvaccinated or who have relied on previous COVID-19 infection for immunity.
“We can also expect that vaccines will continue to work against severe infection,” he added. “The single most important thing we can do is to get vaccinated and boosted — and even if you’ve already had COVID,” he said.
He said vaccines, along with other measures such as high-quality masking, limiting indoor gatherings and postponing travel when possible, will help slow the spread of this variant.
He also said businesses and health care facilities should plan for impacts on the workforce and reduce risks and that schools may see impacts from more cases after winter break.
Earlier this week state health officials announced a COVID-19 outbreak of some 85 people linked to recent high school wrestling tournaments. On Friday, state officials said an estimated 200 cases had been tied to the events and they updated health and safety requirements for high-contact indoor sports.
Those involved in such sports, from coaches to trainers to athletes, must now take COVID-19 tests three times per week, regardless of vaccination status. They also reiterated that spectators at indoor events must wear masks and should distance from those not in their household. Everyone involved in a sport needs to continue to wear a mask when not actively competing, officials said.
“Omicron is a game-changer, but we know layered prevention measures slow the spread of COVID-19 in sports, schools, and communities.” said Lacy Fehrenbach, Deputy Secretary for the COVID-19 response. “Please get vaccinated, boosted, wear a well-fitting mask, and maintain your distance to help our kids stay healthy, stay in the game, and stay in school.”