Highly contagious omicron variant found in Clark County

Kaiser Permanente warns of ‘significant spike in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations’ in coming weeks

The highly contagious omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 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-19 outbreak connected to high school wrestling tournaments that took place in early and mid-December. That outbreak 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-19 variant to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24.

The variant has since been detected throughout the world, including Washington state, where Department of Health officials have identified more than a dozen cases of omicron as of Dec. 20.

Clark County Public Health officials warned Monday that, because not all COVID-19 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.

On Tuesday, Dec. 21, federal health officials said the omicron variant accounted for nearly 70 percent of new infections recorded nationwide last week.

“Preliminary evidence suggests people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with omicron,” Clark County Public Health officials said. “And early data suggests some monoclonal antibody treatments may not be as effective against infection with the omicron variant.”

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

“While breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are occurring, the COVID-19 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-19 strain or other variants, including the also-highly transmissable delta variant, which has accounted for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States since June 2021.

“COVID-19 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.”

Melnick 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.

‘Significant spike in infections, hospitalizations’ expected

Kaiser Permanente Northwest staffers this week sent an urgent message to the community, asking people to “get vaccinated and get boosted” against COVID-19.

The news release noted that current projections predict a “significant spike in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations driven by the omicron variant” in the coming weeks, likely beginning mid-January and peaking in February.

“Although omicron may cause a less severe illness, it is significantly more transmissible: The spike in hospitalizations is projected to two to three times the September peak driven by the delta variant – from a high of 1,200 patients in hospitals in September to 2,000 to 3,000 hospitalizations from omicron,” Kaiser stated.

“It is not too late to take action. Please do what you can to keep yourself, your family, your co-workers and your community safe. We are asking everyone to please get fully vaccinated, including a booster if eligible, wear masks and avoid large indoor gatherings this holiday season,” the healthcare network’s new release stated. “Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health, OHSU, PeaceHealth and Providence continue to do our part to address this public health crisis. We know our dedicated teams will once again do all they can to care for patients.”

“But, after nearly two years of fighting this pandemic our nurses and doctors are exhausted. Clinical staff and hospital beds are in short supply in all of our hospitals. A significant increase in COVID-19 infection and hospitalizations in Oregon and Southwest Washington will create delays in emergency department care for some patients and additional delays for surgeries, due to the lack of an available staffed bed,” the Kaiser Permanente news release stated.

Kaiser Permanente said the omicron variant has been infecting some fully vaccinated people, but “the good news is people who are fully vaccinated and received a booster shot are less likely to be infected and much less likely to have a severe illness and hospitalization.”

To find a vaccination site, visit vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, or call 1-800-525-0127 and press #.

Cases rising in Clark County

The COVID-19 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-19 in Clark County since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

On Dec. 16, Clark County Public Health officials said 579 Clark County residents have died from COVID-19, including 16 new deaths last week that 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 staff members from Camas schools and 28 staff members from Washougal schools, have tested positive for COVID-19.

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-19 cases in Clark County and at local schools, visit clark.wa.gov/public-health/COVID-19-data