Omicron variant detected in the Tri-Cities area in early December

Benton County, Richland, Walla Walla, WMC, Tri-Cities, Kittitas County

KENNEWICK, Wash. — The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in the Tri-Cities area, according to public health officials. The specimens were first collected by local health leaders between December 4 and 8.

According to the Benton-Franklin Health District (BFHD), sequencing data confirmed the presence of the Omicron variant in four separate residents of the region.

Those cases impacted two Benton County residents in their 40s, a Benton County resident in their 80s, and a Franklin County resident in their 40s.

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

“On Dec. 1, when the first case was reported in the United States, we shared that it was a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ the Omicron variant of COVID-19 would be detected here,” said Dr. Amy Person—Health Officer for the bi-county region. “We do know that even if a vaccine doesn’t target a specific variant, the strong immune response you get from being fully vaccinated can still be highly protective against severe disease from all COVID-19 variants.”

Sequencing from the Washington Department of Health takes between 7-10 days to produce a result. That data was transferred back to local health authorities, who announced the Omicron variant’s appearance on Thursday afternoon.

RELATED: Omicron variant spreading fast in Washington state

A briefing will be held by Dr. Person on Friday morning to offer further details on this sensitive matter. However, the area’s leading authority on health matters suggests that vaccines remain the Tri-Cities’ key to beating the virus.

“As we continue to learn more about this new variant, we know the measures that are most effective in helping to keep ourselves and our families safe from Omicron, Delta, and other COVID-19 variants: get vaccinated, get your booster, and wear a mask,” Dr. Person said. “That’s the key to saving lives and keeping our businesses, schools, and communities open. If you aren’t yet vaccinated or need a booster dose, get an appointment or find a walk-in vaccine clinic today.”