Omicron variant: US identifies first case of new COVID-19 variant in San Francisco, California

The White House announced Wednesday that a person in California has become the first person in the United States to have a specific case of the COVID-19 omicron variant, as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new strain of the virus.

The person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 25, 2021, San Francisco County health officials report. The San Francisco resident is self-isolating and experiencing mild symptoms.

The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from South Africa where the alternative was first identified and spread widely. Clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other countries.

“This is the first case of COVID-19 caused by an omicron variant that has been discovered in the United States,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said at the White House.

“San Francisco has one of the highest vaccination rates and the lowest death rates in the country due to the measures our residents have taken since the beginning of this pandemic to keep each other safe,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said. “We knew it was only a matter of time until the Omicron variant was discovered in our city, and the work we’ve done so far has prepared us to tackle that variant. We continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, get boosters, and take steps to keep each other safe.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking steps to tighten US testing rules for overseas travelers, including requiring testing for all travelers within one day of boarding a flight to the US regardless of vaccination status. It was also considering post-arrival testing.

Officials said these measures would only “buy time” for the country to learn more about the new alternative and take appropriate precautions, but due to its transmissibility in the United States, its arrival in the United States was inevitable.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious than previous strains, whether it makes people more dangerous, and whether it could thwart a vaccine. Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said more will be known about the Omicron strain in two to four weeks as scientists grow and test samples of the virus in the lab.

The announcement of the first US case comes before President Joe Biden plans to outline his strategy on Thursday to combat the virus through the winter. Biden tried to calm the jitters about the omicron variant, saying it was a cause for concern but “not a cause for alarm.”

Biden and public health officials have become more urgent in their pleas for more Americans to get vaccinated — and for those vaccinated to get boosters to further protect them from the virus.

Development: We will add more details to this report as they become available.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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