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Cleveland Clinic detects the omicron variant in recent lab samples in Cleveland

scientist using microscope in a lab
The omicron variant of the coronavirus has officially been confirmed in Cleveland. Hospital officials detected the variant through genomic sequencing in Cleveland Clinic's laboratory, officials said Monday.

Updated: 5:52 p.m., Monday, Dec. 13, 2021

The omicron variant of the coronavirus has been officially detected in Cleveland, officials said Monday.

The variant was identified through genomic sequencing in Cleveland Clinic’s laboratory, said Dr. Daniel Rhoads, section head of microbiology at Cleveland Clinic. The patient tested positive earlier this month, he said.

Cleveland Clinic researchers sample a small percentage of positive tests administered in the health system each week, and one of the cases was identified as the omicron variant, Rhoads added. The rest of the cases in the lab sample were primarily the delta variant, which has been the trend for months, Rhoads added.

“Almost everything else was delta except this one, omicron, and so that’s the concern because omicron has shown it can compete with delta in more and more countries around the world,” he said.

In addition to being more transmissible than delta, omicron appears to evade antibodies from the first two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, so Rhoads encourages those who are eligible to get their booster shot.

“They say two doses of the mRNA vaccine give about 30 percent protection at preventing symptomatic infection, and then three doses, which is where a lot of us are now with the boosters, gives about 75 percent protection,” Rhoads said.

The variant has not yet been detected in University Hospitals’ lab, officials said.

Officials declined to provide any further information about the patient, such as whether they were vaccinated.

Over the weekend, officials from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) confirmed at least two people in the state had contracted the variant and tested positive Dec. 7, according to a release. The patients were both vaccinated men from the Central Ohio area, ODH officials said.

The variant, also labeled as B.1.1.529, was detected in The Ohio State University Laboratory, officials said. 

"The Ohio State University Laboratory is sequencing all positive PCR tests, and during the past three weeks, has sequenced about 1,000 positive PCR tests. These two positive tests reflect about 0.2% of all tests sequenced at the OSU lab, the remainder of which were delta," ODH officials announced in a press release. 

ODH Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said in the release that the highly contagious delta variant is still the main variant driving the state’s uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa. International health officials designated it as a ‘variant of concern’ because it has many mutations and may be more transmissible than the delta variant.

Health officials have said for weeks that the new variant is likely already in Northeast Ohio, and genomic sequencing can take 1 to 2 weeks.

There has been some concern over whether COVID-19 vaccines will work as well against the omicron variant because of its mutations, but health officials say they will likely hold up. 

“We continue to urge our community to receive their COVID-19 vaccination, as this continues to be the best protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19,” Cleveland Clinic officials said in a news release.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.
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