Coronavirus: First case of omicron variant discovered in US

Officials in California have confirmed the first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in the United States, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Wednesday.

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“The California and San Francisco departments of public health and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have confirmed that a recent case of COVID-19 among an individual in California was caused by the omicron variant,” Fauci said during a White House news briefing.

The infected person returned to the U.S. from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 29, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said. They are currently self-quarantining and their close contacts have so far all tested negative for COVID-19, he said.

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“The individual was fully vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms which are improving at this point,” Fauci said before emphasizing that the best way to protect yourself from the omicron variant is to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron was detected in the United States. ... We know what we need to do to protect people: Get vaccinated if you’re not already vaccinated. Get boosted if you’ve been vaccinated for more than six months with an mRNA (vaccine) or two months with J&J.”

Fauci said that the person who tested positive for the omicron variant had not yet received a vaccine booster shot. He was unaware Wednesday of any other suspected cases of the omicron variant in the U.S.

>> Related: Coronavirus: Fauci says he ‘would not be surprised’ to find omicron variant in US

The World Health Organization named omicron a “variant of concern” last week given its high transmissibility. Over the weekend, Fauci said that he would not be surprised to find the variant circulating in the U.S. after it was discovered in several other countries last week, though he cautioned that much remains unknown about omicron.

“It has a large number of mutations, particularly in that area of the virus that relates to its ability to bind to the cells in your nasal pharynx and in your lung – namely, related to transmissibility,” Fauci said in an appearance on “Weekend Today.”

“You would predict from looking at the mutations that have been identified that it likely will be more transmissible. We don’t know that yet, but you have to be careful and assume that that’s the case.”

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On Friday, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. is restricting travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in an effort to curb the spread of the omicron variant.

As of Tuesday, the last date for which data was available, just over 70% of the U.S. population – 233.2 million people – had gotten at least one dose of any of the available COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 59% of Americans, or 197 million people, have been fully vaccinated, while nearly 21% of those who have been fully vaccinated have gotten booster shots, CDC data shows.

Since the start of the pandemic, officials have reported 48.6 million cases of COVID-19 nationwide, resulting in more than 780,000 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, 263.1 million cases have been reported, resulting in 5.2 million deaths, according to the university.