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Allegheny County Reports First Omicron Variant Cases

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The omicron variant has now been identified in Allegheny County.

As of Thursday, there are two known cases in the county. Both cases were detected in adult men, with one sample collected on Dec. 7 and the other sample collected on Dec. 13.

Those samples were confirmed to be from the variant on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23.

Local doctors expect cases to rise significantly in the area.

"Knowing that it was already in the community in the middle of December and how fast it spreads and how contagious it is, we can pretty much assure that, knowing that it's dominant already in the rest of America, it's probably the dominant case that we're seeing here," said Brian Lamb, an internal medicine doctor at Allegheny Health Network.

On Wednesday, Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Debra Bogen said it was "only a matter of days" before the variant would be detected, especially since the health department found evidence of the variant in the county's wastewater.

The confirmed cases come as the omicron variant has become the most dominant in the US, and cases from the variant have overtaken the Delta variant.

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The health department says finding the virus in the wastewater can be a "leading indicator" of a case surge in your area.

And using this type of surveillance can also help track new variants. The health department has been working with Alcosan, Penn American and McCandless Township Water Authority to collect samples from about 80% of the county's residents.

The process works by taking 24-hour composite wastewater samples about three times per week. The samples are taken to a lab in Lawrenceville, prepped and then shipped to a commercial lab to be analyzed. However, the county lab will soon start analyzing samples on site.

A team at Carnegie Mellon University has also been providing some support for the project in regard to analytics. The CMU team is also developing a dashboard that will include data -- that will eventually be shared with the state health department -- the CDC and the public.

Lamb said not every COVID-19 test is sent for testing to determine which variant it is. He said individuals who test positive will not know which variant they have.

"We do this as a scientific community. We do it as a pool. You look at it, you pick certain samples out, and based on the number of samples, you have the test for each variant. That's how you know which variant is actually circulating more in a community," Lamb said.

He said the symptoms of Omicron are the same as any other variant. A person could experience a loss of taste or smell, have a cough, or have a headache.

Lamb is stressing that with holiday gatherings just days away, stay home if you are sick.

"If you're sick, the last thing you want to do for Christmas is give someone your disease. So please, just think about what's right for your family. Think about what's right for your friends, the people that you care about and love," Lamb said.

Dr. Bogen said the best way to protect yourself and others is by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

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