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Idaho health officials on watch for omicron variant

Vaccine shot
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, via Flickr
US Army Corps of Engineers

Idaho health officials say they're bracing for the arrival of the coronavirus' omicron variant. The state's public health infrastructure is looking for signs of omicron in Covid test results, and Idahoans are urged to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated.

How currently-available vaccines work to protect people from omicron is still being researched. But Dr. Christine Hahn of the Idaho Division of Public Health says getting vaccinated remains a good idea. That will aid Idahoans in protecting themselves from the delta variant, which is still the primary strain circulating in the state.

“We still have significant transmission in Idaho," Hahn said. "Many of us are planning holiday festivities that are still coming up. And [vaccination] is good protection for what we have in Idaho now. So we urge vaccination for what's out there now.

Hahn told reporters Tuesday that Pfizer and Moderna are both prepared to modify their current vaccines to be able to recognize and respond to the omicron variant as soon as more is known about its specifics.

Idaho has consistently lagged behind the national average in vaccination. Fifty-seven percent of Idahoans 12 and older were fully vaccinated as of November 30, according to the Division of Public Health. The national rate was 69 percent.

State health officials said they believe protocols for Covid testing are in a good position to detect omicron when it arrives. Idaho has partnered with several health entities to develop genomic testing at a robust level over the last few months.

Dr. Christopher Ball, chief of the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories, said most home test kits don’t reveal the presence of the variant. But the nasal swab tests administered at clinics and pharmacies do. Using those tests can help the state detect and track omicron as it moves through the population.

“One of the things you should consider if you are seeking testing is that molecular testing is available at almost all healthcare providers," Ball said. "It can also can be available at many pharmacies and there are also some retailers that will sell tests that you can collect at home and then mail in to a laboratory. All of those results will be reported to the state, and we may be able to access those for sequencing.”

Ball said the genomic testing was very successful in detecting the rise of the delta variant, which is responsible for virtually all of the cases being reported in Idaho at present.

No omicron cases have been confirmed in Idaho or Washington as of November 30. But health experts in both states have said they believe the variant will eventually show up.

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