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First cases of omicron detected on University of Arizona campus

Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 10:21 AM MST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2021 at 5:31 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The first cases of the omicron variant have been detected on the University of Arizona campus, the school reported Tuesday, Dec. 21.

“Researchers from a lab in the University of Arizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology made the discovery at about 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 21 using genomic testing,” the school said in an email.

The school said researchers found the omicron variant in seven samples.

They did this through genomic testing. That basically means they are looking at the order of the genetic information in the virus to determine which variant it is.

Experts say they use a saltwater rinse to collect samples of people who may have the virus and then look for a small part of the genome that would essentially tell them if the virus is there.

If present, they look at the complete genome so they can try to figure out when, where, and how this virus is emerging.

“Following standard protocol for positive COVID-19 tests, the university has begun the process of contact tracing and notifying those who were in contact with the individuals,” the school said.

One virology expert at the university tells KOLD that finding these positive samples on campus did not come as a surprise.

“My feeling was, we were likely to find it in this very batch, frankly.  We’re behind the trend in most of the country which is good.  It seems to have arrived here a little later than it has in other places,” said Michael Worobey, a virology expert at the University of Arizona.

Omicron has quickly become the dominant variant in the United States.

On Monday, Houston reported the first death linked to omicron. The patient, a man in his 50s, was unvaccinated and had health issues.

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