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First U.S. case of omicron variant is found in California

The omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.

The CDC said in a statement that the California Department of Public Health and the San Francisco Department of Public Health confirmed the case in a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 — three days before scientists in that country announced they’d detected the new variant.

The person, an adult under age 50, developed symptoms a few days after arriving in the U.S. and got tested on Nov. 28, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. The test came back positive for Covid-19 on Monday, Nov. 29.

“The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive,” the CDC statement read. Close contacts of the person have been undergoing Covid tests and so far, no one has tested positive.

The fact that the person had only mild symptoms is a testimony to vaccinations, Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said during a news conference.

“Vaccinations do a really important thing: protect against severe disease, against hospitalization and death,” he said.

During a separate news conference, Dr. Grant Colfax of the San Francisco Department of Public Health said the patient had received two doses of the Moderna vaccine, but had not received a booster shot.

Dec. 1, 202101:43

It is another example of the importance not only of vaccination, but also of the booster shot, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday at a White House news conference.

Even though the current vaccines do not target variants such as delta or omicron, “you get spillover protection even against a variant that the vaccine wasn’t specifically directed at,” he said.

“If you’re eligible for boosting, get boosted right now,” Fauci advised.

Newsom said the person with the omicron variant had received the Covid vaccine within the last six months, and therefore was not yet eligible for a booster shot.

The omicron variant has a high number of mutations that suggest it may spread just as or more easily than the delta variant, which accounts for 99.9 percent of Covid cases in the U.S.

Scientists have cautioned that it’s still unclear whether omicron is more dangerous than other versions of the virus that has killed more than 5 million people worldwide. It is also unknown how well the vaccines and treatments would work against the variant.

The World Health Organization said Monday that the global risk of the new variant is “very high.”

“Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we’re done with Covid-19, it’s not done with us,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a special session of the World Health Assembly.

The U.S. last week restricted travel from South Africa and seven neighboring countries. The CDC is now also requiring all airline passengers traveling from those areas to provide their names and contact information while they remain in the U.S.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden is scheduled to update the nation on his plan to combat Covid through the winter. It is likely to include a requirement that travelers entering from other countries get tested within a day of their flight.

“Anybody and everybody who’s coming into the country needs to get a test within 24 hours of getting on the plane to come here,” Fauci said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, public health experts continue to recommend tried-and-true ways of Covid protection: vaccination and a booster, wearing masks indoors and in crowded spaces, and continued physical distancing.

Colfax, of San Francisco, said Wednesday that the city was not considering altering any restrictions.

The variant has been detected in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Israel and Hong Kong, among other countries.

While world leaders and health experts are urging people to get vaccinated as soon as possible, some countries are struggling to inoculate their populations due to lack of access.

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