December 11, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Scientists at The Ohio State University have found two COVID-19 samples that are the omicron variant. These are the first cases identified in Ohio.
 
The two samples were collected by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center on Dec. 7 and both individuals reside in the central Ohio region. According to the Ohio Department of Health, both individuals are adult males. Both received an initial vaccine series more than six months ago but neither had obtained a booster. Both are experiencing mild symptoms and have not been hospitalized. Neither had a history of international travel. To protect patient privacy, no additional information is being released at this time. Public health officials are in contact with the individuals to investigate appropriately.
 
The Ohio State University has two laboratories that have been conducting genetic sequencing on COVID-19 positive samples from across the state of Ohio since the pandemic began. When the omicron variant first became of concern in November, the labs began searching for it in every available specimen displaying a positive PCR test.
 
“It’s important to note that out of about one thousand tests sequenced at Ohio State in the last three weeks, only two are omicron. The delta variant remains the strain responsible for the most illness and filling up emergency rooms and hospital beds across the state of Ohio,” said Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief clinical officer and interim co-leader at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
 
The genetic sequencing process is complex and takes more time than simply identifying whether coronavirus is present. Scientists must amplify the virus sample in order to read it, then they run it through advanced scientific equipment that can identify the single letters of the viral DNA to classify the specific variant type. The samples collected Tuesday were identified today.
 
“In addition to immediately notifying the Ohio Department of Health about these findings, we upload every sequence into an international database so labs across the world can work together to understand, as quickly as possible, how the virus is evolving,” said Sara Koenig, director of COVID-19 advanced technologies at the Ohio State College of Medicine.
 
The Ohio State labs have been working closely with the state of Ohio to ensure sequencing occurs from a large and varied population.
 
“Think of the surveillance process like a canary in the coal mine. It is critical that we have clear line of sight how the virus is evolving across diverse populations in Ohio. Once we detect new variants, we can immediately work with epidemiologists, scientists and health care workers to understand the potential impact of new variants on the citizens of Ohio,” said Peter Mohler, chief scientific officer at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and interim vice president for research at Ohio State.
 
In January, the sequencing lab at Ohio State used the same technology to identify one of the first new viral strains of COVID-19 here in central Ohio. 
 
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Media Contact: Marti Leitch, Wexner Medical Center Media Relations, Marti.Leitch@osumc.edu

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