BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Omicron COVID-19 variant has arrived in Western New York after scientists with the University at Buffalo detected it in Erie County.

The University at Buffalo made the announcement in a news release Wednesday afternoon, they say the highly transmissible variant was discovered in virus samples from WNY residents that tested positive for COVID-19 this month.

Associate professor of biochemistry, Jennifer Surtees, Ph.D., said it’s not known when the Omicron variant arrived in WNY, as her team sequenced nearly 800 samples in November, all of which were the Delta variant.

“So it’s possible that omicron didn’t arrive here until this month,” Surtees said.

Surtees leads a team of researchers at the Jacobs School of Medicine that has been sequencing the virus, searching for these variants. They’re the same team that discovered the Delta variant in Erie County in June.

Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said regardless of the severity of illness the variant causes, those unvaccinated and immunocompromised are most at risk.

“Whether this variant causes more severe illness or not, we expect that this variant will have the strongest impact on people most vulnerable to COVID-19 – unvaccinated or immunocompromised,” Burstein said. “This is all the more reason to use all the tools in our toolkit to protect the most vulnerable in our community, with vaccination, mask wearing and other interventions.”

Patrick Ryan is an award-winning reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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