First US omicron variant COVID case detected in California

The U.S. reported its first case of the omicron COVID-19 variant on Wednesday in California, the CDC said.

A fully vaccinated San Francisco man tested positive for the variant after returning from a trip to South Africa on November 22. He is quarantining at home with mild symptoms that are improving, and all of his close contacts have tested negative so far.

Dr. Anthony Fauci gave a press conference about the U.S. case on Wednesday afternoon, urging people to get vaccinated and get booster shots if eligible.

The man with the omicron variant had not had a booster shot, he said.

Fauci: get boosters

“[T]he fact is that people should wind up getting vaccinated and boosted if they’re eligible for a boost. I keep coming back to that because that’s really the solution to this problem,” Fauci said.

But other experts including Moderna’s CEO have said they don’t know for sure if vaccines will be effective against omicron, which has an unusually high number of mutations. Mutations usually indicate higher transmissability and a virus that can sometimes evade existing treatments.

Vaccine companies are studying the effectiveness of their vaccines on the new variant but won’t have data ready for at least two to four weeks.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to address plans to combat the new variant on Thursday, before most people even know what they’re dealing with.

Travel ban unpopular

A U.S. travel ban for South Africa and several other countries in the region was put in place on Monday, but Fauci said it is only temporary until there is more information about the variant. Several European countries have also issued travel bans.

South Africa has reported only mild cases so far with no hospitalizations or deaths.

The South African doctor who identified the new variant said the worldwide reaction to its discovery has been overblown and that if it is much more mild but more transmissable, it could help more countries reach herd immunity to the virus.

“Here in South Africa, what I and my GP colleagues are seeing doesn’t in any way warrant the knee-jerk reaction we’ve seen from the UK,” she said.

In fact, if a far milder variant of COVID can replace delta and other stronger ones, might that not be a great thing for the world in terms of lowering deaths and hospitalizations from the disease?

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