Less than a week after it was first detected in South Africa, U.S. health officials said Wednesday that the country’s first case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant has been confirmed in California.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, announced the news at a White House press briefing.
“The California and San Francisco departments of public health and the CDC have confirmed that a recent case of COVID-19 among an individual in California was caused by Omicron variant,” Fauci said.
The individual was a fully vaccinated traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29, Fauci said. The person, who has not been publicly identified, is self-quarantining and experiencing mild symptoms, which Fauci said “appear to be improving.” Contact tracing has been conducted, Fauci added, and all of the person’s close contacts have tested negative so far.
“We knew that it was just a matter of time,” he said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the state’s “large-scale testing and early-detection systems” uncovered the case, adding: “We should assume that it’s in other states as well.”
“There’s no reason to panic,” Newsom tweeted. “But we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that the agency was actively looking for the variant but had not yet found a case.
The Omicron variant, tagged as B.1.1.529, was first reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa on Nov. 24. The WHO classified Omicron a “variant of concern” on Friday due to a high number of mutations that could help the virus evade vaccines and spread more easily.
It has since been detected in more than a dozen countries or regions, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal and now the United States.