Omicron variant found by NC lab, but not yet confirmed in NC residents

8December 2021

— Although no infections by the coronavirus’ omicron variant have been confirmed in North Carolina, it’s been found in a growing number of states.

A Mako Medical lab in Henderson, which analyzes 100,000 positive virus tests from 43 states every week, has identified four omicron cases in the past week, from Colorado, Georgia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Mako staffers run the test samples through multiple machines in a 48-hour genomic sequencing process to determine which of the virus variants are circulating where.

“We’ll be able to tell which variant belongs to each sample, and we’ll have all that information in our tracking system as to what patient that was, what state they are from and all that,” Lauren Moon, Mako’s sequencing manager, said Wednesday.

The tests cost $100 per sample, a cost the federal government is picking up.

Most cases are still the delta variant, Moon said. But she said the number of omicron cases will likely grow.

“For states that have not had a case yet, if we find one in that state, we want to contact them as soon as possible, just so they are aware of what is in their population pool,” she said.

Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert with UNC Health, said omicron is likely spreading in North Carolina already, even though it hasn’t yet been detected.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when we’ll detect it,” Wohl said. “We know it’s here. We just have to detect in one of our tests and our sequencing, but it’s here.”

But he said he’s encouraged by early reports from places like South Africa and Hong Kong that show the omicron variant is causing only mild illness in people who are vaccinated.

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