Could omicron already be in Washington? A UW researcher weighs in

SEATTLE, Wash. – Officials confirmed the omicron variant has been found in a positive COVID-19 patient in California. Researchers like Pavitra Roychoudhury said it was only a matter of time until the virus mutated again.

“It’s definitely a little bit of ‘here we go again.’ But I think that we’re in a much better spot than we were a year ago,” the Acting Instructor with UW School of Medicine said.

Roychoudhury believes the variant is likely already in Washington even though they haven’t sequenced a positive result with the variant, yet.

“It’s likely at pretty low frequency right now, given that we haven’t picked it up in samples from the last couple of weeks. So, I think it’s a matter of time given how connected the world is, given how much travel has been occurring over the last few weeks and months,” she said.

As the pandemic has continued, the technology used to detect variants has become widely used and improved, which is why researchers said the omicron variant will likely pop up in other places across the US and world.

“Our ability to sequence a large number of samples every week has certainly bolstered that confidence that we will find this variant,” she said.

It could be several day until researchers discover where else omicron is spreading, including Washington.

Roychoudhury says it’s because not every positive COVID-19 test is sequenced.

“From the point that you receive your positive sample, you have to do a number of laboratory as well as computational steps in order to generate the viral genome. And then you look at the viral genome, compare it to other viral genomes and say whether or not this is the omicron variant and what are the mutations in that genome,” she explained.

When asked about the delta variant, Roychoudhury said that variant still makes up about 99.9% of COVID-19 sequences.

“Delta is a formidable virus, and so we have to remember that. And while we panic about potential new variants in the future, we still have to deal with the one that is currently circulating widely in the population,” she said.