'What Keeps Me Up at Night': COVID Gamma Variant Worries Washington State Health Official


Despite the recent spread globally and across Washington state of the COVID-19 variant known as delta, a different variant is keeping state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist up at night: the gamma variant, first identified in Brazil.

The delta variant — first identified in India and also known as B.1.617 — is not leading to increased hospitalizations, deaths or so-called breakthrough infections — those that happen to vaccinated people — in people who have had the shots, Lindquist said during the state Department of Health's weekly update Wednesday.

The gamma variant, on the other hand, is associated with higher hospitalization rates and increased breakthrough infections. The variant, also known as P.1, now accounts for 16% of the cases in Washington state and is the fastest-rising variant in the state, he said.

The P.1 variant is highly infectious. It can quickly spread from one person to another, with some cases suggesting the variant may be less likely to respond to antibody treatments, according to a June Department of Health report.

"I'm very concerned about the role this one is going to take," he said. "That is exactly what keeps me up at night."

Overall, said Lindquist, the alpha variant — also known as B.1.1.7 and first identified in the United Kingdom — remains the coronavirus's dominant strain in Washington, accounting for more than 50% of positive cases.

Lindquist said vaccination remains key to protecting individuals from the virus and hindering "the spread of these dangerous variants."

As of Saturday, more than 7.4 million shots had been administered to residents 16 and older and more than 4 million had been fully vaccinated, DOH said. According to state data, that's about a 67% vaccination rate.

In order to reach the 70% vaccination rate needed to open the state before June 30, about 140,000 additional people would need to get vaccinated, said state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah.