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Omicron Variant Detected at UW, Highlights Need for Vaccinations, Boosters

December 17, 2021

The first confirmed case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant in Wyoming has been found in a member of the University of Wyoming community.

Lab sequencing has confirmed that a student living off campus with recent domestic travel is infected with the Omicron variant, and confirmation is pending for a second off-campus student presumed to also be infected with the variant. Both cases were initially identified as part of UW’s diagnostic testing program conducted through the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory, with the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) involved in confirmation.

“With the quick spread of this variant across the nation, including within some of our neighbor states, we are not surprised with this result and expect there are other cases within Wyoming that haven’t yet been identified,” says Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH.

Harrist says there is much still to learn about Omicron and its potential impact over time, but she is concerned about how easily and quickly the variant appears to be transmitted between people.

“We continued to encourage vaccination, including recommended booster doses, as the best and most effective strategy to counter COVID-19,” Harrist says.

All COVID-19 vaccine doses, including boosters, continue to be offered at no cost.

The infected UW student, who had received two doses of a COVID vaccine but not a booster shot, is experiencing mild symptoms. The second individual presumed to also be infected with the variant, who was fully vaccinated and had received a booster shot, is asymptomatic and had a very low viral load.

Early indications are that, while the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, symptoms of infection for most people may be less severe than other forms of the coronavirus. And, while Omicron appears to be capable of evading protection provided by two- or one-dose COVID vaccines, COVID booster shots are likely effective in protecting against severe illness.

“The arrival of the Omicron variant at UW is no reason to panic, but it does highlight the importance of vaccines and boosters for our community members,” UW President Ed Seidel says. “We continue to highly encourage receiving vaccinations and booster shots.”

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