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Second U.S. case of omicron variant is found in Minnesota

Two new cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus have been detected in Minnesota and Colorado, health officials from both states said Thursday.

An adult male, who lives in Hennepin County, Minnesota, was found to have the variant, according to the state’s Department of Health. He was vaccinated about six months ago and had gotten his booster shot in early November, officials with the department said during a briefing Thursday.

He had mild symptoms on Nov. 22, which have since resolved.

He told the Minnesota Department of Health that he had traveled to New York City to attend the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center on Nov. 19-21.

“Having a robust virus surveillance system in place allowed MDH to quickly identify omicron once it entered the state and made it more likely that Minnesota would be among the first states to find the variant,” the health department’s statement said.

Minnesota health officials are working with New York health officials to determine who the man may have had contact with. He hadn’t traveled internationally, and officials with the Minnesota Health Department said it’s most likely that transmission of the virus happened at the convention.

A statement from the Javits Center, which at one point was a New York City vaccination center, said visitors are required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks indoors.

“We are working closely with our government and industry partners to learn more about this individual case,” the statement said.

Because the Minnesota man attended the convention, it’s likely the variant is spreading in New York, the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, said on Twitter, urging attendees of the convention to be tested immediately and take precautions such as wearing a mask and social distancing.

One person close to the man, in Minnesota, has tested positive for coronavirus with a rapid test, officials said. The result is under investigation, and the person is isolating, they said.

Gov. Tim Walz said the “news is concerning, but it is not a surprise.”

“We know that this virus is highly infectious and moves quickly throughout the world,” he said.

A female resident of Colorado has also contracted the variant strain of the virus, the state’s department of health confirmed Thursday. The woman, who lives in Arapahoe County, had recently traveled to South Africa and was fully vaccinated, but had not yet received a booster shot.

She is experiencing mild symptoms and isolating in her home, according to Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The first identified case of the omicron variant in the U.S. was detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.

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 identified the new variant.

The person in California, 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 in a briefing 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 reported in a statement.

Close contacts of the California case 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.

At 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.

During a White House news conference on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stressed the importance of vaccination and boosters.

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 outlined U.S. plans to combat the coronavirus through the winter, focusing mostly on ramping up existing Covid-19 procedures, making testing more accessible and promoting vaccinations and booster shots. 

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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