The US Reports First Confirmed Case of Omicron COVID-19 in California

The 50-year-old patient had recently traveled to South Africa.
Ameya Paleja
Omicron has officially been detected in the U.S.Lubo Ivanko/iStock

The U.S. has confirmed its first case of Coronavirus caused by the Omicron variant in a California resident who had returned from South Africa before travel restrictions were put in place, CNN reported.  

The Omicron is a new variant of the coronavirus with a high number of mutations in the sequence of its spike protein. This is expected to radically change the structure of the spike protein that could potentially enable the virus to escape the immune defenses of the body. The World Health Organization has designated the Omicron strain of the virus as a " variant of concern," while adding that it poses a "very high" global risk. The virus that was first identified in South Africa has since spread to 23 countries so far, with the U.S. now included in the list.

In a White House news briefing, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Anthony Fauci confirmed that an adult traveler under the age of 50, who had returned from South Africa on November 22, had tested positive for COVID on November 29. The individual has mild symptoms that are improving as he is under self-quarantine while close contacts of the individual have tested negative.

The individual was "fully vaccinated" but had not received the booster dose, said Fauci, reports Business Insider. The CDC has urged adults to take their booster doses. COVID vaccine developers BioNTech and Oxford University have recently said that currently available vaccines are likely to protect individuals from a severe infection that typically requires hospitalization and intensive care.

The confirmation of the variant was achieved after the sample was sequenced at the University of California at San Francisco and the sequence confirmed by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). CNN reported that the variant identification was completed within 30 hours from sample collection.

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Public health experts have argued that the Omicron cases have already been spreading in the U.S., even though haven't been reported so far. According to Business Insider, currently, there are no Omicron cases that the CDC is investigating. It is likely that the variant has emerged only recently and was identified early due to South Africa's extensive genomic surveillance program. 

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