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Omicron Found In Ohio County

WHEELING — The omicron variant of COVID-19 has now been found in Ohio County.

According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources COVID-19 dashboard, there are now two omicron cases that have so far been reported in the county.

Wheeling-Ohio County Health Administrator Howard Gamble said those two cases were found in people tested in late December.

Divining which variant a COVID-positive person has is not immediate, Gamble said.

Variants are confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests, which are sent from the testing site to a lab to be sequenced out.

“We would assume that, if we’re picking up two from the end of December, so it takes a while for it to go out to a reference lab, and it takes a while for it to be sequenced and reported back to us, that we probably have omicron cases prevalent in the greater Wheeling area,” Gamble said.

He added that, in both cases, the people who tested positive for omicron did very little or no traveling during the time they would have gotten sick. One of the omicron-infected people experienced mild symptoms, while the other “had a very tough time,” Gamble said, to a point that they thought it was a delta variant case. Neither person had to be hospitalized.

During Gov. Jim Justice’s Monday COVID briefing, state coronavirus “czar” Dr. Clay Marsh said that the omicron variant is now the dominant variant in West Virginia. He said omicron accounted for 15% of new cases two weeks ago to 45 to 50% last week and 82% most recently.

New COVID cases have skyrocketed in Ohio County in recent weeks. Totals have gone from 212 new cases from Dec. 19-26 to 502 new cases from Dec. 26-Jan. 2 to 701 from Jan. 2-9 to 861 from Jan. 9-16.

Those post-Christmas increases, Gamble said, likely are from holiday travels and gathering.

“Going forward, we’re more than likely going to see other increases in cases and it will probably be omicron (that causes that),” he said. “When you look at national trends with this disease, our area is about two to three weeks behind the national trend. We should begin to see our increase, if we do see it, in this time period.”

Not every positive COVID test is analyzed for variants, Gamble said. Rapid tests are not sent to labs to be sequenced.

Gamble hopes an omicron-caused case increase in Ohio County has a rapid onset, but also a rapid descent. He has seen promising evidence of that being the case in news reports from areas where omicron hit early.

Gamble reminded people that vaccinations, wearing masks, washing your hands and maintaining proper social distance remain the best ways to avoid catching COVID, regardless of the variant.

The website to order free at-home COVID test kits is now operational. People can register to receive the tests at special.usps.com/testkits.


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