(Reuters) – The first known case of community transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States was found in Minnesota, the state’s health department said on Thursday. The United States reported its first case of of the variant in California on Wednesday, in a fully vaccinated traveler who had been in South Africa. […]
Omicron variant case blamed on community transmission reported in Minnesota
(Reuters) – The first known case of community transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States was found in Minnesota, the state’s health department said on Thursday.
The United States reported its first case of of the variant in California on Wednesday, in a fully vaccinated traveler who had been in South Africa. The new variant was first detected in southern Africa last month.
Minnesota’s public health department said a resident infected with the Omicron variant was a fully vaccinated man who had recently traveled to New York City and attended a conference there at the Javits Center.
Health officials immediately activated the “Test and Trace Corps” to contact conference attendees in an effort to contain the spread, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
“We are aware of a case of the Omicron variant identified in Minnesota that is associated with travel to a conference in New York City, and we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city,” the mayor said in a statement.
Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and former Baltimore health commissioner, said it was only a matter of time before more Omicron cases are detected in the United States.
The Minnesota case “means that there is spread in the United States. There will be many more cases to come,” Wen said on Twitter.
Earlier on Thursday, Minnesota health officials said the man developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and sought COVID-19 testing on Nov. 24, adding that his symptoms had resolved.
Scientists are investigating Omicron, which has been labeled as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, to see if it is more transmissible than the Delta variant that is now prevalent and if it causes more severe disease. They are also studying how well current vaccines work against it.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said the news of the case in the state was “concerning, but it is not a surprise,” adding that “We know that this virus is highly infectious and moves quickly throughout the world.”
The person who had the virus spoke with Minnesota Department of Health case investigators and reported he attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at New York City’s Javits Center from Nov. 19-21, New York officials said.
Walz urged residents to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors. The best response to the new variant is the same as it’s been throughout the pandemic: get a COVID-19 shot, he said.
“Minnesotans know what to do to keep each other safe now —get the vaccine, get tested, wear a mask indoors, and get a booster.”
About 58.9% of the total U.S. population, or 196 million people, have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy nations. More than 786,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, including 37,000 in November alone.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Caroline Humer, Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)