Omicron is quickly spreading across the U.S. While our public dashboard only shows 7 confirmed cases of Omicron, it’s very likely that we have far more cases of Omicron in the state based on what we know about this variant right now. We estimate at least 30% of cases in Utah may now be Omicron, as of Monday, December 20th.
This estimate is based on PCR tests conducted at Intermountain Healthcare using the Thermo Fisher TaqPath, a PCR testing platform that detects S gene target failures (SGTFs). SGTFs signal a possible Omicron case at the time a PCR test is conducted. On December 20th, among 813 positive tests in Utah, 175 were conducted at Intermountain Healthcare using the Thermo Fisher TaqPath platform. Of these tests, 34% demonstrated SGTF. Only PCR positive samples can be used for whole-genome sequencing to determine variants. The cases reported on our public dashboard only reflect the number of confirmed samples which have completed all steps in the whole-genome sequencing process. There is often a lag between sample collection and genomic sequencing. While there are some other variants with this same characteristic, it’s more likely that we are seeing a rapid rise in Omicron cases.
Our Utah Public Health Laboratory (UPHL) has robust genetic sequencing capabilities and can sequence up to 3,100 samples each week. Due to a mechanical issue, the UPHL was only able to perform a limited amount of sequencing the week of December 13th. This problem was addressed this week and we expect to have sequencing results to report this coming Monday.
We are still learning about Omicron. It’s likely we will see more breakthrough cases with Omicron; however, what we know right now, is vaccination and booster shots still offer the best protection against severe illness from COVID-19. The CDC and the UDOH strongly recommend adults 16 and older get booster doses when they are eligible (6 months after receiving their Pfizer or Moderna shots, or 2 months after receiving their Johnson & Johnson shot). To find out where you can get vaccinated, visit https://coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution.