Another Omicron Case is Detected in the US, This Time in a Minnesota Resident
Officials said they found the virus variant in a test sample from a man who had recently traveled to New York City for a convention.
Another Omicron case is detected in the U.S., this time in a Minnesota resident who had been to N.Y.C.
A mobile Covid-19 vaccination clinic in Minnesota earlier this year.Credit…Liam James Doyle for The New York Times
By Jill Cowan
Dec. 2, 2021Updated 3:49 p.m. ET
Minnesota health officials said on Thursday that a man who lives in the state was infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The man, who officials said had recently traveled to New York City, represents the second known case of the variant in the United States.
Leaders in Minnesota said the discovery was unsurprising, and credited robust disease surveillance systems for finding it.
“This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. “We know that this virus is highly infectious and moves quickly throughout the world. Minnesotans know what to do to keep each other safe now — get the vaccine, get tested, wear a mask indoors, and get a booster.”
Much remains unknown about Omicron, including whether it is more transmissible and capable of causing more serious illness.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the man is a resident of Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis. He had been vaccinated, and he got a booster shot in early November. He is no longer feeling symptoms, the department said.
The man first developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22, shortly after traveling to New York City for the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center, the department said. Officials said the man had not been outside the United States recently.
He was tested for the coronavirus on Nov. 24. The state’s Public Health Laboratory determined late Wednesday night that he had the Omicron variant, officials said during a call on Thursday.
“Suffice to say, everybody around the country is looking for information and on alert” for the Omicron variant, said Jan Malcolm, the state’s health commissioner. “It’s very, very early hours.”
Minnesota officials said they were working with New York City and federal health officials to look into the case, and that the man was cooperating with case investigators, and following public health officials’ instructions to isolate himself.
One of his close contacts has since tested positive for Covid-19, officials said, but because a rapid test was used, scientists have not yet determined whether that person, who is also in Minnesota, had the Omicron variant as well.
Genetic sequencing is required to determine which variant a patient has. In recent months the United States has greatly expanded sequencing, but the process takes time — at the Centers for Disease Control, typically about 10 days — to yield results. Currently, according to the agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, about 14 percent of all positive P.C.R. tests in the U.S. are being sequenced.
On Wednesday, California health officials announced that a San Francisco resident had been infected with the Omicron variant — a finding they emphasized was inevitable, as they worked to contain alarm over the variant’s discovery in the United States.
The Omicron variant was first identified by South African scientists, who reported their findings publicly on Nov. 25. Experts have said since then that it was only a matter of time before the variant was detected in the United States, and that once a first case was spotted, many more would probably soon be found.
The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know
The Omicron variant. The latest Covid-19 variant was identified on Nov. 25 by scientists in South Africa and has since been detected in more than 20 countries, including the U.S., which reported its first case on Dec. 1. Should you be concerned? Here are answers to common questions about this variant.
Biden’s winter Covid plan. As Omicron reaches the U.S., President Biden announced a new pandemic strategy that includes hundreds of family-centered vaccination sites, booster shots for all adults, new testing requirements for international travelers and insurance reimbursement for at-home tests.
New travel restrictions and lockdowns. Germany has announced tough restrictions on unvaccinated people, barring them from many aspects of public life. Japan, Israel and Morocco have stopped all foreign travelers, and Australia delayed reopening its borders. Here’s where U.S. citizens can travel right now and what to know about travel restrictions.
Shifting views on boosters among experts. For months, many public health experts have opposed plans to roll out Covid booster shots to all adults. But as Omicron gains ground, researchers are changing their minds, and now believe that the shots may offer the best defense against the new variant.
The man in Minnesota “was getting ill even before we were hearing about Omicron from South Africa,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters on Thursday.
Though the new Omicron variant is grabbing headlines, officials warned that the earlier Delta variant of the coronavirus remains prevalent and is still spreading in the United States, posing a grave risk especially to unvaccinated Americans, who are much more likely than vaccinated people to become severely ill if they are infected.
In Minnesota, Covid hospitalizations have been steadily climbing since the summer, straining health care systems and pushing health workers to the brink as intensive care units have filled with patients.
“The Minnesota surge at this point is Delta — we know that from our surveillance and sequencing work,” Ms. Malcolm said on Thursday. “We do hope this additional news underscores the urgency of paying attention and knowing Covid is very much still with us.”
Sixty-three percent of all Minnesota residents are fully vaccinated, according to C.D.C. data, and in Hennepin County, the figure is 67 percent.
Ms. Malcolm said that there were no statewide pandemic restrictions in effect for businesses in Minnesota, nor any statewide mandate that people wear masks in public indoor settings. She added that she did not believe that any “further regulatory approaches” would be necessary to manage the spread of the Omicron variant. But she urged Minnesotans to take precautions voluntarily: Mask up while indoors, and get vaccinated.
“We feel like we’ve got the tools to manage this and stay ahead of this,” she said.