Oklahoma’s public health lab is trying to learn if Omicron is in the state

TULSA, Okla. — The state’s public health lab is trying to learn if the COVID-19 Omicron variant is in the state already.

State Epidemiologist Jolianne Stone said even without the full sequencing of a sample’s genes, the lab is finding other ways to detect the presence of Omicron in the samples that come in.

The main thing being looked for is an increase in the number of spike proteins on a sample. A spike protein is a protrusion coming out of the main body of the virus that can be seen under a microscope.

“With Delta, we didn’t see as many [spike proteins], but with Omicron, we are able to tell because there are more of them, and that is what we are looking for initially,” Stone said.

Stone said by studying spike proteins, they can identify which samples need to have their genes sequenced. Gene sequencing is studying the DNA of a virus to learn about its make up. Different variants have different gene sequences because of the changes that occurred when the virus mutated.

So far there have not been any reports of Omicron found in Oklahoma, but 17 other states have reported positive cases.

The variant is expected to be highly contagious but the symptoms are right now showing to be mild in adults under 55.

As FOX23 News has reported, many on the local, state, and even national level believe Omicron is already here but hasn’t been detected yet. When the virus mutated in southern Africa to create the Omicron variant, it spread around the world through international air travelers to the rest of the world at least a week before it was discovered and confirmed by global health officials.

The state public health lab is asking for all testing locations to submit as many samples as they can so they can get a better idea of a variant’s progress across the state, but despite an executive order from Governor Kevin Stitt mandating a certain amount of positive samples be submitted by an organization collecting samples, testing has slowed down and the number of samples to be studied is lower than preferred.

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