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King County health officials expect coronavirus cases linked to the highly transmissible omicron variant will rise at an “astonishing speed” in the coming days, with current projections showing daily case counts three times as high as previous records before Christmas Eve.

Public Health – Seattle & King County hosted a news briefing Friday featuring a panel of some of the region’s leading experts, including Dr. Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at Fred Hutch whose pandemic-era work garnered him a national profile.

Bedford outlined the latest modeling assembled by the UW Virology Lab and the Seattle Flu Study, where projections call for the sharpest, fastest rise in cases since the pandemic began.

“If we do a very simple 10-day projection of this rate of growth, we should expect 2,100 daily omicron cases in King County on Dec. 22, 2021,” Bedford said. “This is approximately three times the number of cases seen at the highest point in the pandemic for King County.”

Dr. Alex Greninger, an assistant director at UW Medicine’s Clinical Virology Laboratory, said his team has already seen omicron cases come close to surpassing delta cases over a very short window.

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“The UW Medicine Virology Lab is testing 100 to 200 samples a day and has seen the variant quickly grow in a matter of days,” Greninger said. “Currently, more than one-third of the COVID samples we sequences are the omicron variant.”

Greninger noted that sequencing cases takes several days, and the most recent data reflects samples collected on Dec. 13. His team expects positivity rates have increased even further in the days since.

Looking at how the variant has spread in places where it was confirmed earlier — like South Africa and the United Kingdom — Bedford said King County could expect a similar doubling of omicron cases every two or three days, which would bring case counts well beyond their highest-ever point.

New York City shattered its previous daily record on Friday, reporting nearly 20,000 cases in a single day.

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