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Delta still dominant COVID strain in WA, but officials worry

A woman in white protective gear and a mask holds a swab as she stands outside a white car.
Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press
COVID-19 testing specialist Susana Blasco reaches forward to test a driver at a drive-up coronavirus testing location Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, in Bellingham. Washington health officials said Tuesday at least 400 cases of the new COVID-19 variant had been confirmed, but that omicron hasn't yet overtaken delta cases in the state.

Washington health officials said Tuesday at least 400 cases of the new COVID-19 variant had been confirmed, but that omicron hasn’t yet overtaken delta cases in the state.

“Our early surveillance from a lab standpoint was very much related to detecting omicron in our state,” state Health Secretary Dr. Umair A. Shah said at a news conference. “Now we have to shift to do more representative sampling across the entire state so we can get a better picture of how and where it’s spreading.”

Over the past two weeks, Washington state has averaged more than 1,500 new, likely cases of COVID-19 a day. The state Department of Health on Tuesday reported 1,726 new coronavirus cases and 30 new deaths, according to The Seattle Times. The update brings the state’s totals to more than 807,500 cases and 9,725 deaths.

Hospitalizations and deaths remain consistent, but Washingtonians will likely be in for a “difficult winter” of both influenza and omicron because health care systems are already strained, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said.

The Seattle Times reports that statewide, about 82% of residents 12 and older — about 5.4 million people — have received at least one vaccine dose, while about 76% are fully vaccinated. About 1.7 million Washingtonians had received an additional vaccine dose as of Tuesday.

Health authorities urged eligible people to get booster shots “immediately” to protect themselves this winter and limit the ongoing spread of the new omicron variant.

Shah also, however, acknowledged recent challenges in securing booster appointments throughout the state, assuring residents the state Department of Health is working with Gov. Jay Inslee’s office to take “aggressive” steps to increase appointment capacity.

More information about increasing capacity for booster appointments will be available in the next couple days, according to Shah. In the meantime, he said, masking, distancing, avoiding crowds and getting tested for the virus will be important.

“This pandemic is far from over,” Shah said.