Omicron is ‘likely’ already spreading in Alaska, state says

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A lab at the University of Alaska Anchorage where scientists are part of a state-sponsored consortium that searches for new strains of COVID-19. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska has only identified one case of the omicron variant in the state so far, but state epidemiologist Louisa Castrodale says it’s likely here and spreading.

“We kind of expect that there likely is omicron circulating in Alaska and elsewhere that hasn’t been detected yet. And we’ll get notifications of that and need to sort of adjust back the dates where we thought it was or wasn’t present,” she said.

Across the globe, scientists are racing to learn more about omicron. The World Health Organization has warned that it spreads faster than any other variant of the coronavirus.

In Alaska, information is still scarce about the first omicron case.

In a video conference with media, Castrodale that the state health department did not get a response when it reached out to the Anchorage resident who tested positive for omicron, so it doesn’t know where that person may have traveled in Alaska.

The department is monitoring the spread of omicron elsewhere in the world. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said it appears to be easier to get the omicron variant than the delta variant, but the subsequent illness is not as severe.

Zink said that’s good on an individual level — Alaskans who get omicron may not get as sick. But it’s not so good for the health system.

“From a healthcare standpoint, if we have a whole bunch of people who at once have, you know, even mild disease that might require hydration or short hospital stay, that can very quickly overwhelm our hospital system,” Zink said.

State epidemiologists say that omicron may rapidly become a significant variant in Alaska. They say it’s possible that both omicron and delta could spread in the state at the same time.

Claire Stremple

Alaska News Reporter, KTOO

I believe every Alaskan has a right to timely information about their health and health systems, and their natural environment and its management. My goal is to report thoughtful stories that inform, inspire and quench the curiosity of listeners across the state.

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