WASHINGTON, D.C. – The first United States-based case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant – a new, highly-transmissible mutation of the virus that was originally first reported in South Africa – has been confirmed in California.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a White House press briefing that the individual who had tested positive for the Omicron variant did so after traveling to the U.S. on November 22, prior to travel restrictions being implemented. The unnamed San Francisco resident would later test positive for COVID-19 on November 29.
“We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of Omicron would be detected in the United States,” Fauci said.
Fauci noted that the person infected with the Omicron variant – who is fully vaccinated, but has not received a booster shot – is only experiencing mild symptoms that are already improving, and is currently self-quarantining. Individuals that they had contact with since returning from South Africa have all thus far tested negative for COVID-19.
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The presence of the Omicron variant was detected via genomic sequencing carried out by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, with their findings verified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In late November, Dr. Angelique Coetzee – a South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect that a new COVID strain was in existence – had said that all symptoms she observed displayed by those infected with the Omicron variant so far were “very mild” and could be treated at home.
Dr. Coetzee noted that symptoms of Omicron differ from the currently globally-dominant Delta variant, including patients typically not losing their senses of taste and/or smell.
It is currently unknown how effective current vaccines – or those who may have acquired “natural immunity” from a prior infection – are when it comes to the new variant, or the seriousness of the health threat that it currently poses. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron a “variant of concern” and medical professionals are urging individuals to get vaccinated to help prevent more serious illnesses from a COVID infection.
Omicron was first detected in South Africa, but has since been found in other countries as well.