Second US case of Omicron COVID-19 variant detected in Minnesota
A second case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected in the U.S. in a man that had recently attended an anime convention in New York City last month that had over 50,000 attendees.
The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed the infection on Thursday in a resident who had recently traveled to New York City.
The person was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms, but has since recovered.
He had attended NYC Anime between November 19 and 21, before travelling back home and testing positive for the virus on November 22.
It comes a day after health officials in San Francisco, California, revealed the first U.S. Omicron case on Wednesday.
The variant was initially detected by South African officials last week, and experts are uncertain of its origins.
It is believed to be highly infectious and potentially vaccine evasive due to its many mutations.
The second U.S. case of the Omicron variant has been detected in Minnesota. The state health department reports that the infected person had recently traveled to New York City. Pictured: Two members of the Minnesota National Guard prepare to assist a local hospital treat Covid patients in St Paul on November 22
The man had attended Anime NYC, a Manhattan based event from November 19 to 21. A day later, he tested positive for Covid in Minnesota. All attendees to the event had to show proof of vaccination. Pictured: A costumed attendee at Anime NYC on November 20, 2021
‘Minnesota’s nation-leading genome sequencing infrastructure and strong testing network have allowed the state to quickly track the COVID-19 virus and better understand its spread. Today, those tools detected a case of the Omicron variant in Minnesota,’ said Governor Tim Walz in a statement.
‘This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise.
‘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. Together, we can fight this virus and help keep Minnesotans safe.’
The person infected is an adult male from Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis.
He is fully vaccinated, and first began to experience symptoms of Covid on November 22, before the variant had even been identified.
The man tested positive for the virus on November 24.
Health officials say he had recently attended Anime NYC – an anime convention at New York’s Javits Center – from November 19 to 21.
The estimated attendance of the convention was over 50,000, with people traveling from around the nation to attend.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said at a news conference on Thursday that the man’s symptoms were mild, and have already resolved.
She noted that all attendees of the event the man attended had to show proof of vaccination.
‘We’re not defenseless against this variant,’ Hochul said, encouraging New Yorkers to get vaccinated and wear masks in public places to protect themselves.
‘In addition to vaccination and boosters, we can slow the spread of this variant and all COVID-19 variants by using the tried-and-true prevention methods of wearing masks, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate.’
‘I don’t want anyone to panic over this,’ Hochul said.
Not much is known about the variant just yet, but many health officials fear the worst.
The variant was first detected in South Africa last week, but is believed to have originated in either Botswana or in a European country.
South African health officials are reporting that cases of the variant they have seen so far have been more mild than those of other variants.
It has 50 mutations, including more than 30 on the spike protein that the COVID-19 vaccines target to prevent infection.
Nearly 400 cases of the variant have been confirmed across 34 countries worldwide.
Because of these many infections, vaccine experts fear the shots could be rendered ineffective against the new variant.
Cases have also begun to skyrocket in South Africa after the variant was first detected there, another worrying sign for health officials.
Nothing can be said for certain yet, though, and more information is expected to be gathered about the variant over the next few weeks.
‘We still have more to learn about Omicron, but the most important thing we can do right now is to use the tools we have available to make it as hard as possible for this virus to spread,’ Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.
She also said that this time the state would not be caught off guard like it was in March 2020, when New York City suffered a massive surge right at the start of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the first case of Omicron in the U.S. was sequenced in San Francisco, California.
That person – whose gender was not revealed – had recently travelled from South Africa, according to local officials and was fully vaccinated.
‘The individual is self quarantining and all close contacts have been contacted and all close contacts thus far have tested negative,’ Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told reporters during a briefing.
California Governor Gavin Newsome said that the person is between the ages of 18 to 49.
American officials are cautioning citizens, but warning them not to panic in the wake of a new threat, though.
President Biden said Wednesday that officials are still learning more, but the ‘jury’s still out’ on if it poses a threat to fully vaccinated Americans.
‘We’re going to know in the next several weeks just not only how transmissible the disease is but how extensive it is, how dangerous it is and what damage it does, and most importantly, whether the vaccines we have are capable of dealing with this virus,’ the President said.
The U.S. moved on Monday to shut down travel from eight southern African nations including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Biden also plans to unveil his winter Covid plan on Thursday, which includes increased vaccination and and new travel requirements.
The President plans to push the Food and Drug Administration to allow for children under the age of five to get vaccinated against Covid – as they are the remaining ineligible age group in the U.S.
Such a move would place the U.S. among a short list of countries which have approved vaccines for children this young: China, Cuba, Argentina and Venezuela.
Biden also plans to require an inbound U.S. travelers to produce a negative Covid test within 24 hours of travel.
Private insurers will also be required to cover the costs of at-home testing.
The administration is also extending the mask mandate for public transport until March 18.
Originally, the requirements in airports and in airplanes, buses and trains was set to expire in mid-January, but is again being extended with the emergence of the Omicron variant.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also working to contact trace people who may be exposed to the new variant and prevent spread of the virus.
‘CDC has been actively monitoring and preparing for this variant,’ Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the agency, said in a statement.
‘…CDC has expanded its capacity for genomic sequencing over the past nine months and we have more tools to fight the variant than we had at this time last year from vaccines to boosters to the prevention strategies that we know work including masking in indoor public settings, washing your hands frequently and physical distancing.’
Vaccine manufacturers are also working quickly to gather data on the new variant, and have shown willingness to rollout potential Omicron specific booster shots if needed.
Dr Ugar Sahin, founder of BioNTech – which is partnering with Pfizer for the rollout of its Covid vaccine – said earlier this week that he believes his company’s shot can still prevent serious complications from the variant, even if it can cause breakthrough infections.
A Moderna executive said on Wednesday that this company would have an Omicron-specific booster shot available as early as March if necessary.
BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson have both also announced plans to work on an Omicron specific vaccine, if necessary.