A person in California has the nation’s first confirmed case of the new omicron coronavirus variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.
The unidentified individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa to the U.S. on Nov. 22. The case was confirmed by the California and San Francisco departments of public health, according to the CDC.
“The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive. All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative,” the CDC said in a statement.
The traveler, who is a San Francisco resident, developed COVID-19 symptoms on Nov. 25 and got tested on Nov. 28, revealing a positive test result the following day, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a press conference Wednesday.
“We are not surprised by this. This was predictable. This was predicted,” he said.
At a White House press conference immediately following news of the variant’s confirmed arrival in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci said he did not believe that the traveler had received a booster shot. He advised Americans to get vaccinated and to get booster shots to help prevent the virus’s spread and serious disease. He also encouraged people to continue practicing virus mitigation measures, including wearing masks.
“Just do all of the things that we’ve been talking about up to now. For those who haven’t been doing that, start doing that. For those who have been, continue doing that,” said Fauci, who is the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden. “Let’s utilize and implement the tools that we have. Because if we had done that, if we had the overwhelming majority of people in this country vaccinated and those who needed to be boosted boosted, our vulnerability would be much less than it is now.”
Fauci said he was not aware of the CDC investigating any other potential omicron cases in the U.S.
The World Health Organization has described omicron, which was first identified by researchers in South Africa, as a “variant of concern.”
There is much that is still not known about this form of the virus, including whether it’s more transmissible than other variants, whether it’s more likely to cause serious illness, and whether it’s better able to evade immune protection.
Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday that it would likely take two to three weeks for scientists to find answers.
On Friday, the White House announced that it would prohibit travelers arriving from several southern African nations, even as a growing number of countries in other parts of the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, confirmed cases.
Fauci said Wednesday that White House health officials had “struggled” with implementing the travel ban, but he reasoned that it was a temporary way to buy time to prepare for the variant’s arrival.
“I do hope that this gets sorted out and lifted before it has any significant impact,” he said to a reporter inquiring on behalf of Zimbabwe.
Biden has announced plans to release a detailed strategy for fighting the coronavirus this winter on Thursday.