SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The United States on Wednesday detected its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus: a person who had already been vaccinated against the coronavirus and who returned to California after traveling to South Africa, at a time when scientists from all over the world the world is rushing to establish whether the new mutation is more dangerous than the old ones.
The nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, made the announcement at the White House.
“We knew it was a matter of time before the first omicron case was detected in the United States,” he reported.
The infected person was identified as a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22, presented mild symptoms and tested positive on Monday. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco campus, obtained a sample from the patient Tuesday afternoon and worked overnight to assemble the genetic sequence.
The person, who had received two doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, but not enough time had passed since his last dose to receive a booster, is on the mend and agreed to undergo a quarantine, California authorities reported.
Fauci and other medical experts strongly emphasized that Americans must continue to inoculate and receive their booster vaccines. The vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of serious illness and death, and Fauci said it is reasonable to believe that it will offer protection against the omicron variant.
The mild nature of the infection for the California person “is a testament to the importance of vaccines,” said California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.
All people who were in close contact with the person were contacted and tested negative, authorities reported. The patient was only identified as belonging to an age group between 18 and 49 years.
At least 23 more countries have reported cases of the omicron variant since South African authorities first identified it a week ago, an announcement that prompted the United States and many other nations to ban travelers from southern Africa. .
However, there are many unknowns surrounding the mutation, including: Is it more contagious than other variants, as some scientists have begun to suspect? Does it make the infected person suffer a more serious illness? And can you elude the power of vaccines?
“Any statement of what will or will not happen with this variant, I think it is too early to say anything,” Fauci commented.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that it will be two to three weeks before it is completely clear what omicron can do to the world.
“This is, in normal times, a short period. In times of pandemic, it is an eternity ”, he lamented.
In California, the genetic sequencing of the patient’s virus by the University of California, San Francisco campus, was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are likely to see this scenario play out multiple times across the country in the coming days and weeks,” said Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.
“This particular case shows that the system is working as designed: an individual with a history of travel from South Africa, a crafty laboratory and rapid prioritization of the specimen for sequencing, and close coordination with public health officials,” said Becker. .
Nigeria and Saudi Arabia also reported cases of the omicron variant on Wednesday, marking the first known cases of the mutation in West Africa and the Persian Gulf region.
It is not known precisely where or when the variant first emerged, although it is clear that it was circulating in Europe for several days before South Africa made its existence known.
At the same time that the omicron variant is spreading new fears and uncertainty, the dominant delta variant continues to wreak havoc, especially in Europe, where many countries are facing increased infections and hospitalizations despite a relatively high vaccination rate of 67 % of the population of the European Union.
Miller and Balsamo reported from Washington, DC Associated Press journalists around the world also contributed to this report.