A person in California has become the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Dr. Anthony Fauci confirmed the variant case during the White House briefing on Tuesday. The CDC also confirmed the variant case, by also reminding people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to the California and San Francisco Departments of Public Health, the individual "was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22, 2021. 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."
In a Wednesday news conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom confirmed the patient, a San Francisco resident had not yet received a booster shot, indicating that the person had received the shots more recently and likely was not yet eligible for a booster.
Genomic sequencing by the University of California, San Francisco detected the variant.
The California and San Francisco Departments of Public Health released a joint statement, saying in part, "We must remain vigilant against this variant, but it is not a cause for panic."
“As expected, and thanks to California’s large-scale testing and early detection systems, the State of California and the San Francisco Department of Public Health have confirmed a case of the Omicron variant in California. Our partners at the University of California, San Francisco identified this case through their sequencing capabilities. California is continuing to monitor the variant’s presence and progress through the state’s robust Whole Genome Sequencing surveillance. We must remain vigilant against this variant, but it is not a cause for panic. To help detect and prevent the spread of this new variant, the State of California is increasing COVID-19 testing at our airports for arrivals from countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We recognize that everyone is exhausted, and the news of a new variant can be overwhelming. It is important that we collectively focus on the things we know prevent the spread of COVID-19, and its variants. Individuals should (1) get vaccinated and boosted; (2) wear your mask in indoor settings; (3) get tested if you have symptoms; and (4) stay home if you are sick."
Dr. Mark Ghaly, director of the California Department of Public Health, said people should not be discouraged about COVID vaccines by learning that the patient who contracted omicron was fully vaccinated.
"Does that mean the vaccines aren't working? We have been talking for months about the fact that vaccinations do one really, really important thing -- protect against severe disease, against hospitalization and death. And the evidence that an individual with Omicron identified by sequencing actually has mild symptoms, is improving, is a testimony to the importance of the vaccination."
Newsom said the latest figures show that 92.1% of all Californians aged 18 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine.
The news comes as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new strain of the virus.
The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from Southern Africa where the variant was first identified and had been widespread.
Clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other nations, including Hong Kong, Australia, Portugal, and Canada.
Last month, the Biden administration restricted travel from Southern Africa, the Associated Press reported.
The AP reported that the CDC is taking steps to tighten testing rules in the U.S. for those who travel overseas, including requiring travelers to test within a day of boarding a flight to the U.S. regardless of vaccination status.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the omicron strain as a “variant of concern.”
Researchers in South Africa first identified it.