Omicron infections balloon from 10 to 400 in Washington

<p><p>The omicron variant of coronavirus continues to spread in Washington. </p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>Early data show that boosters are offering protection against the omicron variant, though.</p></p><p><p>“The best booster is the one being offered to you,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah told reporters Tuesday.</p></p><p><p>So far, more than 1.7 million Washington residents have received a booster , but millions more are becoming eligible .</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>Shah encouraged people holding multiple appointments for booster shots to cancel the appointments they won’t use to free up space for others.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>“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.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>“The more people we can keep out of the hospital, the more people we can keep alive,” Kwan-Gett said Tuesday.</p></p><p><p>With hospitals already packed and flu season on the way, health officials expressed concern about hospital capacity this winter.</p></p><p><p>“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.”</p></p><p><p>The Department of Health is now adjusting surveillance strategies to be able to detect how quickly the variant moves across the state.</p></p><p><p>Preliminary reports show that the new variant is more transmissible than the delta variant.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><h3>Here’s a look at local numbers</h3></p><p><p>The Spokane Regional Health District reported 65 new COVID cases and one additional death on Tuesday.</p></p><p><p>There have been 1,136 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.</p></p><p><p>There are 61 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane hospitals.</p></p><p><p>The Panhandle Health District reported 106 new COVID cases and no additional deaths on Tuesday.</p></p><p><p>There are 65 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.</p></p>