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1st case of Omicron COVID variant confirmed in Pima County

490 COVID deaths in Az this week, more than 22,600 new infections

Pima County officials confirmed the first local case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on Thursday. The patient had tested positive for COVID in Tucson early in December, but state and health officials verified genetic sequencing tests in the past 24 hours.

The case, among the first of the variant to be confirmed in Arizona, is being investigated, officials said.

Maricopa County confirmed three Omicron cases on Monday. Pima health officials had already stated publicly they were sure the new version of the virus would arrive locally. Omicron was designated a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization the Friday after Thanksgiving and is the first virus to be so declared since Delta, which county health officials say presently accounts for almost all COVID infections detected here.

Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Pima County Health Departement, said “it was a matter of when, and not if, Omicron would be in Pima County.” Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county’s chief medical officer, told the Board of Supervisors in early December, “I have no reason to believe it won’t get to (Pima County)...if it’s not already here.”

Both health officials have said they expect Omicron to supplant Delta as the dominant local strain of COVID.

490 COVID deaths in Az this week, more than 22,600 new infected people

There were ​​490 COVID deaths in Arizona this week, with more than 22,600 newly infected people. The middle of the week had high case numbers, including Tuesday with 203 deaths and 2,168 new COVID infections reported by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Wednesday had 81 additional deaths and 3,249 new confirmed infections, and on Thursday, there were 20 new deaths from COVID and 2,911 new infections. On Monday, there were 2,391 new confirmed COVID-19 infections while Sunday had 19 deaths and 3,231 new cases reported.

On Saturday, there were 74 deaths and 3,774 new cases, and last Friday, there were 93 deaths and 3,924 new infections.

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"The best courses of action remain the same," Cullen said.

"Getting the vaccine is highly effective in preventing serious illness and death, including against the variants," she said in a news release. "If you have been vaccinated, get boosted to stay protected."

Cullen has also continued to emphasize wearing masks in public indoor spaces, washing hands and physically distancing.

The COVID vaccine is free to anyone 5 years and older and boosters are available to anyone 16 and older. The boosters have to be taken six months after the second dose of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after the first Johnson & Johnson shot. An updated list of vaccine sites, including pediatric sites, are available online.

Pima County offers free testing everyday of the week and gives out free rapid antigen tests at all county library locations to reduce the spread of the virus. Hours for testing centers are online, which also have the hours for mobile testing events.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Pima County Health Department (pictured in this May file photo), confirmed that the first Omicron case has been detected locally.


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