The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the United States has been identified in California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the person returned to the U.S. from South Africa on November 22. The individual tested positive one week later, on November 29, and immediately began to self-quarantine. The individual was fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, which are improving.
The agency said health officials have contacted the person's close contacts, and they have all tested negative for COVID-19.
Last week, several countries restricted travel from South Africa and other neighboring countries after the variant was identified. The variant was first detected in South Africa, but new evidence suggests it was in Europe before it was identified by scientists.
So far, it has been identified in more than 20 countries.
The Omicron variant has over 50 mutations and more than 30 to the spike protein. Scientists are studying whether the variant could evade immune protection. The World Health Organization has classified Omicron as a "variant of concern."
Speaking at the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci stressed the importance of getting vaccinated.
"Our experience with variants such as the Delta variant is that even though the vaccine isn't specifically targeted to the Delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection even against a variant that the vaccine wasn't specifically directed at. And that's the reason why we feel, even though we don't have a lot of data on it, there's every reason to believe that that kind of increase that you get with the boost would be helpful at least in preventing severe disease of a variant like Omicron," Dr. Fauci said.