The Whitman County Public Health director believes the omicron variant of COVID-19 is already in the county.

Chris Skidmore said Tuesday the variant has not yet been identified in local tests of which he is aware, but given the speed at which it is moving through the country, he expects it has reached the area.

“I would anticipate that it’s been here a while and it’s already moving through our community,” he said.

Friday, the City of Moscow announced omicron was identified in its wastewater testing program. Public Health – Idaho North Central District has received no confirmation of the omicron variant in human lab samples. However, the agency believes it is only a matter of time before the variant is lab-confirmed.

Skidmore anticipates there will be another spike in daily confirmed COVID-19 cases, though that may not happen until college students return to the Palouse from their winter break.

Washington State University announced Friday in a news release that it is tracking conditions across the state with regard to omicron.

“Decision-making concerning campus operations will continue to be informed by data and guidance from state and county health agencies,” the announcement stated. “WSU leaders remain confident that, based on current conditions, the spring 2022 semester will be in‑person at all physical campuses.”

Skidmore said he is unsure how hospitalization rates will be affected by the variant.

Whitman County currently has better hospital bed availability than many of its surrounding counties, he said. Whether omicron will change that remains to be seen. Skidmore said hospitalization rates in the United Kingdom did not mirror the spike in new cases, but it is unclear if Whitman County will see a similar trend.

With the news of Omicron dominating headlines, Skdimore said more people are scheduling their booster COVID-19 shots and local vaccine clinics are filling up.

“We have seen a pretty good uptick,” he said.

Skidmore said getting the booster shot is the “gold standard” for people who want to stay protected while they travel for the holidays.

Aside from that, Skidmore encourages people to practice social distancing, wear masks and continue to take the same measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 they have been doing since the beginning of the pandemic.

Whitman County reported 12 new COVID-19 cases, three new hospitalizations and no new deaths Tuesday.

There have been 6,216 COVID-19 cases, 82 deaths and 234 hospitalizations in the county since the pandemic began.

Public Health – Idaho North Central District reported four new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths Tuesday in Latah County. Those cases include two people between ages 5-12, one person in their 30s and one person in their 60s.

There have been 4,499 confirmed cases, 333 probable cases and 41 deaths in the county since the pandemic started.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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