Dec. 2, 2021, 7:44 a.m. EST

First case of omicron variant in the U.S. is in a San Francisco resident returning from South Africa, health officials confirm

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Jaimy Lee

An individual who is fully vaccinated and recently traveled to South Africa is the first confirmed case of the omicron variant in the U.S., local and federal health officials said Wednesday. 

The news was first confirmed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, during a White House press briefing on Wednesday afternoon. Federal health officials said Tuesday that 226 cases of the new variant had been detected in 20 countries.

The individual received two doses of Moderna Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -3.48% COVID-19 vaccine and has not received a booster dose, according to Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of public health. 

All close contacts have tested negative so far.

“This is not a surprise,” Colfax said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “We knew that omicron was going to be here. We thought it was already here. We just haven’t detected it yet. So this is cause for concern but [it] is also certainly not a cause for us to panic. We are prepared here in the city for this.”

The individual left South Africa on Nov. 21, landed on Nov. 22, and got tested on Nov. 25 after developing mild symptoms, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a separate news conference. The test came back positive on Nov. 28 and was then sent off for sequencing. The individual, who lives in San Francisco, is between the ages of 18 and 49 years old.

“The individuals they have come into contact with have not tested positive yet to our knowledge,” Newsom said.

Omicron last week was classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, setting off a string of action, including border closures and new testing requirements for international travelers entering the U.S .

There are five SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern , including the delta variant, which was behind the summer surge in cases over the summer. 

At this time, there are very few known facts about the omicron variant; however, the number of mutations and the location of mutations indicate it may be more transmissible and it may affect someone’s immune response. Fauci said this week he expects that more information about the variant will be available within the next two to four weeks. 

“Although some preliminary information from South Africa suggests no unusual symptoms associated with the variant, we do not know and it is too early to tell,” Fauci said Tuesday.

Health officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated, get a booster, and wear masks in public indoor settings.

“We’ve said it over and over again, and it deserves repeating. If you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated. Get boosted if you are vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Continue to use the mitigation methods; namely masks, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Choose outdoors rather than indoors. Keep your distance; wash your hands; test and isolate if appropriate.”

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