Omicron Variant Found in Several States12/03 06:17
NEW YORK (AP) -- The omicron variant of COVID-19, which had been undetected
in the U.S. before the middle of this week, had been discovered in at least
five states by the end of Thursday, showing yet again how mutations of the
virus can circumnavigate the globe with speed and ease.
Just a day after the first known U.S. case was found in California, tests
showed the omicron variant had infected at least five people in the New York
City metropolitan area, plus a man from Minnesota who had attended an anime
convention in Manhattan in late November.
A Colorado woman who had recently traveled to southern Africa, a Hawaii
resident with no recent travel history, and another California resident who
traveled to South Africa last month also were infected by the variant,
Much remains unknown about omicron, including whether it is more contagious,
as some health authorities suspect, whether it can thwart vaccines and whether
it makes people as sick as the original strain.
Health officials in each state said there was no cause for undue alarm. But
the spread of the cases, some involving people who hadn't been away from home
recently, meant the variant was likely already circulating domestically in some
parts of the U.S.
"We gotta assume there's a lot more behind that and that it has been here
for a meaningful amount of time," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a
news conference with Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The infected New Yorkers included a 67-year-old woman on Long Island who had
recently traveled to South Africa, residents of Brooklyn and Queens and another
case possibly linked to travel. At least one person had received a dose of a
COVID-19 vaccine but officials did not have details about the vaccination
status of the four other cases.
In Minnesota, health officials said a man who had not traveled outside the
U.S. began experiencing symptoms the day after attending the Anime NYC 2021
convention in New York City. Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said
it's likely the man contracted COVID-19 at the convention, but officials did
not know for sure.
Officials in New York said they were working to trace attendees of the
convention, which was held Nov. 19-21 and drew about 50,000 people, according
to event organizers. Attendees were required to wear masks and show proof of
having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
It was held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center as New York City
prepared to host the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and braced for
throngs of tourists to return after the U.S. opened up to vaccinated
City Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi urged people who attended the event to
"This is not just due to people who are traveling to southern Africa or to
other parts of the world where omicron has already been identified," Chokshi
The Minnesota man began experiencing mild symptoms Nov. 22. He had been
vaccinated and received a booster shot in early November, according to health
officials in his home state. He sought COVID-19 testing Nov. 24, and his
symptoms have subsided, officials said.
Nov. 22 was the same day the person infected in the first California case
returned to the U.S. from South Africa. The California traveler, who was
vaccinated, developed mild symptoms and tested positive Monday. The second
person in the state didn't need medical care and was also vaccinated.
The unvaccinated adult infected with the variant in Hawaii had gotten
COVID-19 a year ago. The person isn't currently hospitalized and had
"mild-to-moderate" symptoms including headache, body aches and cough, Hawaii
Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said.
She wouldn't identify the patient other to say the person lives on the
island of Oahu.
Omicron is classified by the World Health Organization as a "variant of
concern" as scientists work to determine how it may compare with the
predominant delta variant in terms of transmissibility and severity. Scientists
also are studying the degree to which existing vaccines and therapies protect
Scientists in South Africa first reported it, but the samples came from
several countries in southern Africa. And health officials in the Netherlands
now say it was found there prior to the South Africa detection.
As comfort over air travel returns, it's inevitable that new variants like
omicron will spread from country to country and state to state, said professor
Danielle Ompad, an epidemiologist at New York University's School of Global
"We shouldn't panic, but we should be concerned," she said.
Hochul said the case involving the Minnesota visitor underlined the need for
everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or receive a
booster shot if they have not already.
"There is one way to address this -- New Yorkers, get vaccinated, get
boosted, and get ready," the Democrat said.