MISSOULA — Missoula County reported its first omicron variant case Tuesday.
In a press release, Fyr Diagnostics — a Missoula lab that processes and sequences the Missoula City-County Health Department’s (MCCHD) COVID-19 tests — detected the Omicron variant on Tuesday.
The individual infected with the variant was tested at MCCHD. Case investigation is pending, and it is unknown at this time if the individual contracted the variant through travel or community spread.
Due to the highly contagious nature of this variant, the health department encourages people to take precautions and assume the variant is circulating in the community.
Also Tuesday, President Biden told the nation that “we should all be concerned about Omicron but not panicked,” and health officials in Missoula agree.
“Thankfully, we know what actions can limit the spread of this variant. It’s just a matter of members of our community practicing these common-sense mitigation measures to protect one another,” explains Health Officer D’Shane Barnett.
“So far, data show the vaccines still provide good protection against severe illness due to omicron. We highly encourage everyone to get their boosters or start their vaccine series if they have not done so already," Missoula COVID-19 Incident Commander Cindy Farr added.
Farr noted it takes your body’s immune system about two weeks to respond to that booster dose.
“If you’re counting on being around a bunch of people and want to make sure you get that booster, it’s not too late to go ahead and get it," Farr explained. "But just know that you won’t be fully protected until about two weeks after the vaccine.”
Missoula County residents can call 406-258-INFO to make a COVID-19 testing appointment.
Farr added Missoula officials are expecting another surge in cases over the next few weeks, "if it follows the same pattern that we’ve seen in the past, three-to-four weeks after we see a surge on the East Coast is when we start to see a surge in Missoula County.”
She says some of those cases will likely be Omicron, "it is highly transmissible.”
Farr told MTN News Missoula County has automated a lot of the systems since our last surge in COVID-19 cases.
“Those processes like being able to fill out a web form for people that do test positive, identifying their close contacts and getting all of that process automated should really help us in our response to this new variant.”
The CDC has not issued any new guidance, but Farr says those same things like masks, social distancing and hand washing are still believed to be effective measures of prevention.
“So definitely all good habits to put back in place after we all kind of dropped our guards a little bit," Farr said.
The health department recommends individuals practice the following precautions:
- Get boosted immediately or start your vaccines series if you have not done so already.
- Wear a mask at all times in public and stay distanced from others.
- Keep your social circle to 10 friends or fewer. Consider only hanging out with individuals who are outside of your immediate household in well-ventilated areas and keep your masks on.
- Wash your hands frequently with hot soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching your face as much as possible.
- Stay home if you are sick and seek COVID-19 testing.
Omicron is now the dominant COVID variant in the US making up 73% of new cases here last week, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
We're also learning about the first omicron-related death reported in the US in an unvaccinated Texas man with underlying conditions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is issuing a dire warning ahead of Christmas, saying a canceled holiday event is better than a canceled life.