UPDATED: Dr. Anthony Fauci confirmed today that the first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 had been identified in the U.S. The presidential advisor said the case was identified in California and the patient had recently arrived via airplane from South Africa. Fauci said that the person had been vaccinated and their symptoms were mild. It was unclear whether the person had taken a booster shot or not.
In a tweet, California Governor Gavin Newsom credited “CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems” for identifying the case, before observing, “We should assume that it’s in other states as well.”
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
As Fauci spoke, the California health officials issued a statement that seemed to indicate the Omicron case was found in San Francisco. SFO is one of four airports in the U.S. that announced expanded testing earlier this week.
Per CA officials:
The State of California and the San Francisco Department of Public Health have confirmed a case of the Omicron variant in California. Our partners at the University of California, San Francisco identified this case through their sequencing capabilities. California is continuing to monitor the variant’s presence and progress through the state’s robust Whole Genome Sequencing surveillance.
We must remain vigilant against this variant, but it is not a cause for panic. To help detect and prevent the spread of this new variant, the State of California is increasing COVID-19 testing at our airports for arrivals from countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We recognize that everyone is exhausted, and the news of a new variant can be overwhelming. It is important that we collectively focus on the things we know prevent the spread of COVID-19, and its variants. Individuals should (1) get vaccinated and boosted; (2) wear your mask in indoor settings; (3) get tested if you have symptoms; and (4) stay home if you are sick.
Omicron, first identified in South Africa late last week, made its way to North America earlier this week, with a case cropping up in Canada, said an official government statement.
PREVIOUSLY: Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN’s Jake Tapper today that it will be 7-10 days before we know for sure about how severe cases caused by the Omicron variant of Covid-19 generally are. Fauci said that South African officials have “assured us they’d know probably in a matter of a week, a week and a half as to whether or not we’re dealing with something that for the most part is more severe, equally as severe or less severe.” Fauci said according to the incomplete information we now have, the infections seem to be less severe. But the variant seems to be spreading rapidly.
Two weeks ago South Africa, where the variant was first identified earlier this month, recorded 136 new cases. Today, the country logged 2,273 new infections. That’s a more than 16-fold increase in just two weeks. That could mean that, even if cases are less severe, skyrocketing numbers of infections could still overwhelm hospitals, leading to a cascade of deaths.
Fauci said U.S. officials were in daily touch with South African experts, who have been “extremely cooperative.”
"Right now it does not look like there's a big signal of a high degree of severity, but it's too early to tell," says Dr. Anthony Fauci of the Omicron variant.
"We really need to wait for [South Africa] to give us the information. They have been extremely cooperative." pic.twitter.com/m9aai0qxGF
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) November 29, 2021
The Centers for Disease Control and Infection, meanwhile, has strengthened its vaccination recommendation.
“CDC is updating its recommendation on #COVID19 vaccinations: everyone 18 yrs & older should get booster shot,” Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement today.
“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against Covid-19,” the director said.
Previously, the recommendation was that Americans should get a booster jab if they were over 50 years old.
CDC is updating its recommendation on #COVID19 vaccinations: everyone 18 yrs & older should get booster shot. We have much to learn about #OmicronVariant, but we do know that COVID-19 vaccines are our best tool to avoid serious illness & hospitalization. https://t.co/JvSr1hQoqy pic.twitter.com/SWok2Jas4P
— Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH (@CDCDirector) November 29, 2021
Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday that he is considering making vaccination mandatory, according to Reuters.
PREVIOUSLY on Monday: The Omicron variant of Covid-19, first identified in South Africa late last week, has made its way to North America, said an official statement. It has so far been found in at least 16 countries worldwide, according to one tally.
Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that two cases had been detected in his country’s most populous province, Ontario, according to multiple reports. The province’s top health officials said the people infected had recently been to Nigeria, per NBC News.
“We continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travelers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant,” said the officials.
Duclos said health officials were working to contract trace the cases and that “it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada.”
President Joe Biden echoed that sentiment today, saying that Omicron will arrive in the United States “sooner or later,” but said that it was “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”
The World Health organization, which was among the first bodies to begin tracking the disease, released a statement of observations and recommendations on Sunday. Among them were the following points:
– The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.
– 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.
– Initial reported infections were among university students.
– Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron.
– PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron.
The WHO also recommended that countries increase surveillance and sequencing of cases. Currently only a portion of cases are genomically sequenced to determine which variant caused them. For instance, in California 23% of cases in California were sequenced this past July.
The organization also urged countries to “increase some public health and medical capacities to manage an [expected] increase in cases.”
According to a Washington Post tally, the countries and regions where Omicron has been found thus far include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (probable case).
PREVIOUSLY on Saturday: A growing wave of new restrictions spawned by the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant in South Africa is underway. But the United States is waiting until Monday to implement its own flight bans.
The omicron variant allegedly has the potential to be more resistant to any protection offered by vaccines. News of its existence has roiled stock markets and caused travel destinations to reassess capacities, with fears of new lockdown measures looming over all.
Already, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the European Union have imposed restrictions on southern African countries in response to warnings over the transmissability of the new variant. Protections include flight bans, quarantine rules and the usual social distancing and mask requirements.
Despite the precautions, cases have already been reported in travelers to Belgium, Israel, and Hong Kong.
Today, Britain confirmed two linked cases of the new omicron variant. The UK just announced new travel measures to combat the variant. It now requires that travelers must take a PCR test and quarantine on arrival until a negative result is returned
Germany indicated it likely has one case. Dutch authorities are also checking for the new variant after 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19.
Omicron is causing concern because of its high number of mutations and belief that it carries a higher degree of infection. The fear is that it is resistant to existing vaccines and could cause “breakthrough” cases on those already vaccinated. Because of long incubation periods, it could be weeks before a determination is made. That comes at one of the busiest travel times of the year across the planet.
US President Joe Biden said Friday of the new variant told reporters, “I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious.” The US will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other nearby countries beginning Monday.
White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said the travel blocks “is to just give us time to assess it better. That’s the reason for doing that, not any reason to panic, but we want to give us some time to really fill in the blanks of what we don’t know right now.”
Health officials worldwide were concerned about the variant’s swift spread among young people in South Africa, even though there was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease.
A number of pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, said they have plans in place to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of omicron. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said they expect to be able to tweak their vaccine in around 100 days.