The first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 was confirmed in California, marking the variant’s official entrance into the United States.
Omicron was first detected in November among travelers quarantined in Hong Kong after arriving from South Africa. South Africa has become the epicenter of the variant, named by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 26 and classified as a Variant of Concern.
The California and San Francisco Departments of Public Health confirmed the variant’s presence in the state after Genomic sequencing was conducted at the University of California – San Francisco.
The infected person had arrived in American from South Africa on Nov. 22, 2021. The traveler was fully vaccinated, is exhibiting mild symptoms, and began quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19. Anyone considered a close contact of the inaugural American omicron patient has, so far, tested negative.
“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and general prevention strategies needed to protect against COVID-19,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its Dec. 1 press release. “Everyone 5 and older should get vaccinated [and] boosters are recommended for everyone 18 years and older.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci also confirmed that the nation now has a confirmed case of the omicron variant during a White House press briefing.
“We knew that it was just a matter of time,” he said. He added that the traveler’s symptoms “appear to be improving.”
California’s “large-scale testing and early detection systems” uncovered the case, according to a Twitter post from Governor Gavin Newsom.
“We should assume that it’s in other states as well,” he said. Newsom advised the public not to panic and to “wear a mask indoors.”
CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California. We should assume that it’s in other states as well.
There’s no reason to panic–but we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) December 1, 2021
President Joe Biden said on Nov. 29 that he did not believe the omicron variant would lead to additional restrictions for Americans.
“The biggest worry about Omicron is that it can evade key antibodies, potentially rendering the existing vaccines (and immunity acquired through prior infection) less protective,” reports Yahoo! News. “Its many mutations — as well as its rapid spread across South Africa, a country that just recovered from a big COVID spike driven by the hypercontagious Delta variant — suggest that’s a real possibility, at least when it comes to infection.”
In addition to South Africa, Hong Kong and the U.S., the variant has been confirmed in Australia, Austria, Botswana, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and Portugal.