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First U.S. Case of Omicron Variant Confirmed in California

Passengers queue at LAX airport before Memorial Day weekend, in Los Angeles, Calif., May 27, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The first case of the Omicron COVID variant in the U.S. has emerged in California, the CDC announced Wednesday.

“The California and San Francisco Departments of Public Health have confirmed that a recent case of COVID-19 among an individual in California was caused by the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529),” the CDC wrote in a statement.

During a White House press briefing Wednesday, Dr. Fauci said the case was detected in an individual who traveled from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive for the virus on November 29.

Fauci added that the individual is self-quarantining to prevent further transmission and close contacts have not contracted the variant so far. He said that the person was fully vaccinated and has “mild symptoms, which are improving at this point.”

Originating in South Africa, the Omicron strain appears to be highly infectious but less virulent than its Delta counterpart and the original version that spread across the globe in the spring of 2019, scientists have suggested. Since the emergence of the new variant, President Biden imposed a travel ban on November 26 on eight African countries that could pose a risk of importing the disease, including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.

Last week, scientists with the World Health Organization characterized Omicron as a “variant of concern” that could potentially evade the protection of the current vaccine and natural immunity provided by prior infection and recovery.

On Sunday, Dr. Fauci acknowledged that travel moratoriums can only “delay” the spread of the Omicron variant.

‘Travel bans, when you have a highly transmissible virus, never completely would…prevent it from coming into the country. No way that’s going to happen,” he told host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week. “What you can do is, you can delay it enough to get us better prepared.” Fauci elaborated that the travel restrictions can provide the U.S. a window of time to research the new variant and boost vaccination rates in preparation.

On Wednesday, Fauci emphasized the importance of Americans getting the first set of vaccinations as well as the booster shot, recently approved by the FDA under emergency authorization for adults, even though he admitted a new vaccine may need to be developed to combat this specific variant. For now, he noted, the definition of fully vaccinated means a person received the original two Pfizer or Moderna doses or the single Johnson and Johnson dose, although he said “that could change.”

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