LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The first US case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been discovered in California.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the California Department of Public Health, confirmed Wednesday that the case was discovered in a traveler returning from South Africa on November 22.
The variant was detected using genomic sequencing by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.
According to the CDC, the person was fully vaccinated and has had mild symptoms so far. All of the patient’s close contacts have so far tested negative.
“This is not a surprise. For those of you who have been following this, we knew Omicron would be here, we thought it was already here, we just had not discovered it yet,” said San Francisco Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax in a news briefing Wednesday. “So this is cause for concern, but it is certainly not a reason for us to panic either.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom responded to the news on Twitter.
“CA’s large-scale test and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California,” he wrote. “We should assume it is in other states as well. There is no need to panic – but we should remain vigilant. That means getting vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”
State and Los Angeles County leaders have said they do not plan to issue new lockdowns as a means of preventing Omicron from spreading. UCLA epidemiologist Dr. Anne Rimoin told CBSLA on Wednesday that the most important thing is surveillance.
“We’ll have to look for it,” Rimoin said. “All the sequencing we are doing now is on the rise – I have a feeling we will have a lot more information soon.”
The Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa last week. Although not much is known about its transmissibility or severity, there is concern because it has a high number of mutations.
This has led the World Health Organization to designate it as a “variant of concern.”
“The Omicron variant is the most divergent variant that has been detected in significant numbers during the pandemic so far, giving rise to serious concerns that it may be associated with a significant reduction in vaccine efficacy and an increased risk of reinfections,” said European health officials. Friday, according to CBS News.
The White House has banned international travelers from eight countries in southern Africa, including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. The ban does not apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents.