The first known case of Omicron in the United States was reported on Wednesday, Dec. 1. According to officials, a traveler from South Africa, who flew into San Francisco, CA on Nov. 22, tested positive for the new variant. The patient has mild symptoms, has been isolating, and is fully vaccinated. Now that this new addition to the COVID family has reached American shores, the message from officials seems to be just a rehash and repeat of the last several months: Get vaccinated.
“We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of Omicron would be detected in the United States,” Dr. Anthony Fauci announced.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was quick to reach out on Twitter with its reinforced message: “Breaking: The first confirmed case of #OmicronVariant has been detected in the United States. Everyone 5 years and older should get vaccinated against #COVID19. Boosters are recommended for everyone 18 years and older.”
Moderna chairman Noubar Afeyan reached out to Fox Business to express his concern about the new strain, explaining advanced testing for “Omicron-specific” vaccinations is in the works. “We’re doing it all,” he told Liz Claman, host of Fox’s The Claman Countdown. He continued:
“We really do need to up the level of immunity against the virus. That can best be done through vaccine and through getting boosters against this new threat as well as Delta … We need to get the maximum protection possible.”
Although California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state would not (yet) be intensifying public health restrictions, he did say that “we should assume that it’s in other states as well.” The health officials in the Golden State said they would be increasing COVID testing at airports, especially on arrivals from countries the CDC has marked as potential sources for the virus.
This is a lot of concern over a mutation that has yet to cause any serious illness or hospitalizations. Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a general practitioner for 33 years who also chairs the South African Medical Association, was the first to bring the newest strain into public attention. Her patients who were positive for Omicron were from a wide range of ages and had mild symptoms. None had lost their sense of smell or taste. “Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” she said.
Flying around Twitter is a copy of a commentary the South African doctor reportedly wrote in which she criticizes the travel bans restricting people from her country, especially since she has seen no reason for panic. “And let me be clear: nothing I have seen about this new variant warrants the extreme action the UK government has taken in response to it,” she wrote. Coetzee stressed that she had treated absolutely zero patients with severe symptoms and then pointed out again: “So at the moment, I’m afraid it seems to me that Britain is merely hyping up the alarm about this variant unnecessarily.”
But Europeans are not the only ones “hyping up the alarm” on Omicron; Americans have only to look in their own backyards to see how the media and politicos have taken up the gauntlet as well. This may be seen to some as a boon to increase vaccination rates and improve President Joe Biden’s approval numbers. The commander-in-chief tweeted: “If you are vaccinated, but still worried about Omicron, go get your booster. And if you aren’t vaccinated, go get that shot.”
Dr. Fauci, who recently claimed to represent science itself, said there’s no way to know yet whether the current vaccinations will work on this new variant, but he still insists on getting the shots to help build immunities. He said:
“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.
“So right now, I would not be waiting. People say, ‘Well, if we’re going to have a booster-specific vaccine, should we wait?’ If you are eligible – think six months with a double mRNA dose or two months for the J&J – get boosted now. We may not need a variant-specific boost. We’re preparing for the possibility that we need a very specific boost and that’s what the companies are doing.”
So, what have we learned about Omicron?
- Omicron is a new variant of COVID.
- Its symptoms are mild, and no one has been hospitalized as of yet.
- We don’t know if the current vaccines will work on it.
- Get vaccinated anyway.
~ Read more from Kelli Ballard.