The first three cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have been confirmed in Washington state, officials said Saturday.

The cases were found in three counties: Thurston, Pierce and King, according to the Washington Department of Health. The patients — two men and a woman — range from 20 to 39 years old.

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Samples from the three were collected between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1, and the cases were confirmed at an in-state lab. Details about the patients' conditions weren't immediately released.

Much remains unknown about omicron, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it can thwart vaccines and whether it makes people as sick as the original strain.

Given the realities of international travel, scientists said it was inevitable that the omicron variant would be discovered in the U.S., and they believe it may have been spreading in the country before it was detected.

The coronavirus is continually evolving, but most mutations are inconsequential. At this point, scientists are trying to figure out whether omicron spreads more easily or causes more severe disease than the delta variant. They are also studying how well the current vaccines work against it.

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