The First U.S. COVID Omicron Case Has Been Detected in California

Little is known about the latest COVID variant, but the World Health Organization says it poses a “very high” risk—and now it’s here

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that the COVID-19 variant Omicron has been found in a person who returned to San Francisco from South Africa on November 22.

According to the CDC, the case was confirmed by the California and San Francisco Departments of Public Health. The individual was fully vaccinated and is experiencing only “mild symptoms that are improving.” Additionally, the person has been self-quarantining since testing positive and all of their close contacts have been notified and have tested negative.

As of December 1, Omicron had spread to 24 countries, including the U.S.

On November 26, the World Health Organization labeled Omicron a “Variant of Concern,” and in a November 28 technical brief estimated that the risk posed by the mutant strain is “very high,” but very little is actually known about it.

As the WHO also stated on November 28:

• “It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta.”

• “It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron. There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.”

• “WHO is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on our existing countermeasures, including vaccines. Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death.”

At a press conference in Geneva Wednesday, Maria Van Kerkhove, the COVID-19 technical lead in the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said that while we are still in the “early days” of Omicron, there is “some indication that some of the patients are presenting with mild disease.”

Van Kerkhove emphasized that journalists should make it “crystal clear” that “there’s no indication to suggest that the vaccines won’t work even if there is a reduction in efficacy.”

“It’s still better to have the vaccine because it will save your life,” Van Kerkhove said, adding, “We expect to have more information on transmission within days, not necessarily weeks, [and] in days in terms of the severity profile.”

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