Highly contagious omicron variant detected in Clark County

Public Health director urges COVID vaccinations, precautions over holidays

The highly contagious omicron variant of COVID has been detected in Clark County. 

On Monday, Dec. 20, Clark County Public Health officials said the variant had been found in two Clark County cases, including one linked to a COVID outbreak connected to high school wrestling tournaments that has infected at least 34 athletes and coaches from six Clark County schools. 

South African researchers first detected the omicron variant, formally known as B.1.1.529, in November, and reported the mutated COVID variant to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24. 

The variant has since been detected throughout the world, including Washington, where state Department of Health officials have identified more than a dozen cases of omicron as of Dec. 20, including at least three cases linked to wrestling events that took place throughout the state, including Clark County, in early and mid-December. 

Clark County Public Health officials warned Monday that, because not all COVID specimens are submitted for sequencing, the number of statewide and local omicron cases “is likely much higher.” 

“The University of Washington Virology Lab estimates that more than 50 percent of specimens submitted for sequencing have genetic markers associated with omicron and are likely omicron cases,” Public Health officials stated in a Dec. 20 news release.

“Preliminary evidence suggests people who have previously had COVID could become reinfected more easily with omicron<” Public Health officials stated. “And early data suggests some monoclonal antibody treatments may not be as effective against infection with the omicron variant.”

Both of the cases detected in Clark County were in fully vaccinated individuals. 

“While breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are occurring, the COVID vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the omicron variant,” Public Health officials stated in the news release.

The Centers for Disease Control has stated it is too soon to know if the omicron variant will cause more severe illness than the original COVID strain or other variants, including the delta variant, which has accounted for the majority of COVID cases in the United States since June 2021. 

A recent study by the Imperial College London found the omicron variant was 5.4 times more likely than the delta variant to escape immunity from past COVID infections.

“COVID vaccines continue to provide the best protection against infection from the omicron variant and others,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and Public Health director. “I urge anyone who is not yet vaccinated or who hasn’t received their booster dose to do so as soon as possible.”

COVID vaccines are available at no cost for everyone age 5 and older. Individuals age 16 and older are eligible for booster shots six months after completing the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine series or two months after receiving a one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Melnick on Monday urged Clark County residents to get vaccinated and continue to wear face coverings, avoid crowded indoor spaces, increase ventilation when gathering indoors and stay home when feeling ill to avoid catching or spreading COVID. 

“The presence of the omicron variant, which early data suggests may be more contagious than the delta variant, makes these measures especially important as families gather for the holidays,” Public Health stated. 

“Taking these precautions will help make holiday gatherings safer for you and your loved ones,” Melnick added. 

Transmission rate rising in Clark County

The COVID transmission rate in Clark County had been steadily falling since late October, but began to tick up again this month, jumping from 237.2 cases per 100,000 residents on Dec. 9 to 273.6 cases per 100,000 residents on Dec. 16. 

As of Dec. 20, there have been 46,695 confirmed and probable cases of COVID in Clark County. 

On Dec. 16, Clark County Public Health officials said 579 Clark County residents have died from COVID since the pandemic began in March 2020, including 16 new deaths last week, which included a man in his 30s; a man in his 40s; a man in his 50s; two women and one man in their 60s; one woman and seven men in their 70s; and two men over the age of 80. 

The county’s public health department also tracks cases among Clark County schoolchildren and school staff.
Over the past five months, 171 Camas students and 185 Washougal students – as well as 13 Camas school staff and 28 Washougal school staff – have tested positive for COVID. 

While the Camas School District has recorded just one outbreak (defined as two or more cases in a school that are epidemiologically linked), the Washougal School District has recorded 29 cases linked to school transmissions, including 18 cases in elementary schools, seven cases in middle schools and four cases at Washougal High School. 

For more information on COVID cases in Clark County and at local schools, visit clark.wa.gov/public-health/COVID-data