A person who traveled to California from South Africa on Nov. 22 is the first case of the omicron COVID variant in the United States. The Center for Disease Control reported the fully vaccinated individual had minor symptoms that are improving and is self-quarantining. No one this person came in contact with has tested positive for COVID.
President Biden plans to announce his strategy for fighting COVID over the winter months on Thursday, Dec. 2.
Omicron is a serious concern
The omicron variant, which has been found in the Middle East and Europe in addition to South Africa, has been labeled by the World Health Organization as a “very high” risk to global health.
Dr. Margaret Harris, a public health doctor and WHO spokesperson, told NPR’s Morning Edition, “The vaccines were designed, basically, to keep people out of [the] hospital, and they’ve stood up and they’ve done that very well. So we really need to know whether this particular version is going to change that picture.”
While the news of the variant’s presence in the United States is troubling, it’s also not surprising, according to CNN medical analyst Leana Wen.
“I definitely understand why this would be concerning to people hearing the news, but let’s remember that this was something that we expected all along,” Wen said on CNN.
As of Dec. 1, 210 cases of the omicron virus have been identified in at least 24 countries, including the newly diagnosed case in the United States. Seventy-seven of those are in South Africa.
The pandemic is not over
“Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we are done with COVID-19, it is not done with us,” said the WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, according to USA Today.
While vaccination rates are increasing and booster shots are being administered quickly and efficiently, it’s important to remember the pandemic is far from over. If your older loved one hasn’t gotten their vaccinations or booster shot yet, make an appointment to do so as soon as possible. The vaccine appears to prevent serious illness in those who’ve contracted the omicron variant, as it’s done with the Delta variant. The CDC has emphasized that those over 65 are at higher risk of serious illness, so vaccination is crucial to staying safe.
Don’t panic but stay safe
The omicron variant’s rapid spread in South Africa is disturbing because this form of COVID has many mutations, which can cause rapid spread and possibly result in long-term problems for those infected. Experts advise there’s no reason for alarm, but precaution is necessary because COVID is an ever-changing and unpredictable virus.
Make sure your loved one continues to wear a mask in crowded places, avoids those who aren’t vaccinated, and washes their hands or uses hand sanitizer. Also, they need to continue to follow the safety protocols in place if they live in a senior living community or another group home.