COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The latest genomic sequencing by the Ohio Department of Health shows the omicron variant makes up a tiny fraction of COVID-19 cases, but the state’s top health officials expect cases of this highly contagious variant to rapidly increase.

Every week, ODH releases data to show how much of each coronavirus variant is in Ohio. Department scientists use samples — the PCR swab tests — to look at the genetic code of the variant that infected COVID-positive people.

Only samples with enough viral load can be sequenced, but the process informs ODH of which variants are most prevalent in Ohio.

This sequencing lags 3-4 weeks from when a sample was collected, the department notes on its dashboard. ODH receives sequencing data continuously, and the dashboard is updated weekly.

Each sequencing period is two weeks, and the most recent period available is the two weeks ending Dec. 4. The asterisks above that period on the dashboard note it is preliminary:

A screenshot shows part of the Ohio Department of Health’s COVID-19 variant sequencing dashboard as of Dec. 20, 2021.

The latest sequencing shows the omicron variant is in Ohio, but at 0.27% of samples it’s still overshadowed in size by the delta variant, which has been the dominant strain in Ohio since the summer and made up 99.73% of samples in the latest sequencing.

That testing period ended 16 days ago, however, and state officials caution that the variant is already spreading rapidly throughout Ohio, since it is believed to be more transmissible than delta.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday said “a significant number” of cases the Cleveland Clinic is seeing in initial testing are omicron, which “indicates that omicron is already spreading very quickly in the northern part of the state, particularly the northeastern part of the state.”

“A lot more people are going to get infected,” DeWine said.

Delta became the dominant variant in the U.S. and Ohio — by accounting for more than half of cases — in early July after being first detected stateside in March.

The number of omicron cases showing up in Ohio are still small compared to delta, ODH Director Dr. Vanderhoff noted on Thursday. But omicron cases are showing up statewide, and the time it has taken to spread elsewhere in the world has been “very rapid.”

“We know from those geographies that as soon as (omicron) appears, it is clear that there are many, many other cases out there that are just not yet detected,” he said. “So, I think we have to make the assumption that omicron is on the scene, that we are going to see more and more of omicron in our detections, and that it is going to drive more and more cases of COVID-19.”