Phoenix-area health official on omicron: ‘It’s probably already here’

Dec 7, 2021, 11:01 AM | Updated: 11:03 am

A laboratory technician isolates COVID-19 samples at the Genview Diagnosis lab on August 13, 2021 i...

A laboratory technician isolates COVID-19 samples at the Genview Diagnosis lab on August 13, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (File Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

(File Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – A high-ranking metro Phoenix health official said Tuesday that while the omicron variant of COVID-19 hasn’t yet been confirmed in Arizona, “it’s probably already here.”

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of disease control for Maricopa County Public Health, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News that the county is working with the state health department and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to detect the highly contagious new variant.

“We have not yet identified it in Arizona,” she said. “However, it has been identified in enough states that most of us think it’s probably here already.”

Omicron was first confirmed in the United States last week in California and has since been detected in at least 15 states.

Sunenshine said the lack of knowledge about omicron, which was classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization less than two weeks ago after it was identified in southern Africa, is what makes it worrisome.

“There are lots of mutations, we know that for sure, and we think that these mutations might affect the ability of the vaccine and for natural infection to create immunity,” she said.

“So it’s likely that it’s very contagious.”

Dr. Richard Carmona, the state’s top pandemic adviser, told KTAR News’ The Mike Broomhead Show on Tuesday that it could take a couple of weeks of research before scientists can determine if omicron is more contagious than other forms of COVID, how sick it makes people, and how effective the current vaccines are against it.

“There’s a lot of conjecture coming from around the world, and we probably just need to sit tight and continue to use our mitigation strategies, get vaccinated, wear a mask where appropriate and let the scientists decide on the unique characteristics,” Carmona, a former U.S. surgeon general, said.

Sunenshine emphasized the importance of vaccines at a time Arizona hospitals are seeing the highest levels of COVID patients since February, in the early days of the vaccine rollout.

“Which is why whether it’s the delta or the omicron, it’s so important to get vaccinated,” she said.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

A Phoenix Police SUV with lights on at a crime scene at night...

Phoenix police arrest 2 suspects linked to home burglary

Phoenix law enforcement arrested two suspects after a break-in on Saturday evening near 43rd Avenue and Northern Avenue.

1 hour ago

File photo of crime scene tape in Phoenix...

David Veenstra

Police investigating fatal hit-and-run collision in north Phoenix

Police are investigating a fatal hit-and-run collision that killed a female pedestrian in north Phoenix on Saturday.

3 hours ago

A man died after a motorcycle crash early Sunday morning in Desert View Village. (MCSO Photo)...

David Veenstra

Motorcyclist dead after crash in Desert View Village, near Cave Creek

A man died after a motorcycle crash early Sunday morning in Desert View Village, near Cave Creek, according to authorities.

4 hours ago

World's Biggest Bounce House (XL Event Lab photo)...

Damon Allred

World’s Largest Bounce House coming to Phoenix for weekend stop on nationwide tour

The Big Bounce America is bringing its coterie of inflatable attractions to Phoenix this weekend, featuring eight inflatables.

5 hours ago

Singer Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant performs onstage during day two of the 2021 Pilgrimage Musi...

Damon Allred

Grammy-winning Cage The Elephant announces Phoenix stop during North American tour

Grammy Award-winning rock band Cage The Elephant announced a stop in Phoenix on its upcoming summer tour in conjunction with a new album.

6 hours ago

SkyBridge Arizona is an emerging business park in Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. It, along with othe...

Ron Davis/Phoenix Business Journal

Major aerospace developments near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport move forward

The skyline around Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport has some changes in store, including major aerospace develoments.

6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Phoenix-area health official on omicron: ‘It’s probably already here’