The first known case of the Omicron variant in the U.S. has been identified in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday.
The announcement was expected at some point, with President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci noting during a briefing shortly after the announcement that this was “only a matter of time.” The individual identified as having the Omicron variant is fully vaccinated and experienced “mild symptoms that are improving,” the CDC said.
“All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative,” the CDC noted. “Genomic sequencing was conducted at the University of California, San Francisco and the sequence was confirmed at CDC as being consistent with the Omicron variant. This will be the first confirmed case of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant detected in the United States.”
Biden said Monday that the new variant is a “cause for concern, not cause for panic” and defended the implementation of travel restrictions put into place in light of the cases. These travel restrictions affect South Africa, where the variant was first identified, and seven other countries. Some of these countries have not yet confirmed cases of the Omicron variant and countries not on the list, like Canada, have announced cases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Omicron variant as a “variant of concern” and scientists do not yet know how severe the variant is and how well existing vaccines work against it. Currently, the administration is urging fully vaccinated Americans to get the booster shot and for unvaccinated individuals to get the shot. (RELATED: ‘The Choice Is Yours’: In Line With CDC’s Mask Guidance, Biden Gives Americans An Ultimatum On Vaccines)
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel predicted Tuesday that current COVID-19 vaccines will likely be less effective against the Omicron variant, though Fauci has expressed his hope that they will “provide a degree of protection,” as Biden said.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and one of the early doctors to tell authorities about a new potential variant, has been critical of the world’s response to the new variant. She recently noted that current patients typically have “very, very mild symptoms,” though it is still early on.