OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday urged state residents to get their COVID-19 shots or boosters as officials ramp up their search for the new omicron variant.
In a regularly scheduled news conference, Inslee said health officials are already seeing a spike in appointments for booster shots in light of the new variant, and that people shouldn’t be discouraged by a wait.
“There is a temporary bulge in the pipeline because people have come in in droves the last few days, because of the omicron” variant, he said. “So the demand has skyrocketed, but it is a relatively temporary condition. You will be able to get a vaccine if you want it.”
In recent days, the state has seen a 75% increase in people searching Washington’s vaccine locator to book an appointment, Inslee said.
But, “You don’t fall off the cliff if you get it Tuesday instead of Monday,” Inslee said of booster shots, adding: “So people should not panic if they have to wait a week or two or three on this.”
The federal government is allocating more doses to Washington for booster shots for people who have already been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, health officials have increased the number of COVID tests they are monitoring so they can keep a close eye on the omicron variant.
Health officials and researchers don’t yet have a solid grasp of whether omicron spreads more easily or if vaccines are less effective against the variant.
As of Thursday evening, the omicron variant had been detected in at least five states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota and New York.
The state Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday reported 2,136 new coronavirus cases and 77 new fatalities.
Washington health officials are boosting surveillance efforts to detect the variant, said Inslee and state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah.
Typically the state has looked to test about 10% of COVID samples to learn their genotype, Shah said during the news conference.
Health officials are now screening between 20% and 25% of samples, he said.
Another technique being used is known as the “S dropout” method, which can detect potential cases of omicron. In the omicron variant, one of the genes — the spike gene, or S gene — isn’t detected by PCR tests, so virologists can use that trait to help identify potential cases.
“That tells us very quickly, within a day, that we can see if this is consistent with omicron or not,” said Shah.
Health officials are also prioritizing investigations of COVID cases to help identify others potentially infected — known as contact tracing — for people who may have traveled to a place where omicron has been identified.
Shah urged state residents receiving a call from contact tracers to answer the phone because “it may very well be for this reason.”