A Georgia resident has tested positive for the recently discovered Omicron variant of Covid-19, state Public Health officials reported Friday evening.
The Georgian is currently in New Jersey. The person, who was not identified, recently was in South Africa and then went to New Jersey, where the Covid tests were performed. The individual is fully vaccinated, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
South Africa and and other nations in southern Africa are where the Omicron variant was first reported. The CDC has reported a rise in Covid cases in that region.
Health authorities worldwide have had to deal with several variants, or strains, of Covid during the pandemic. Recently, the Delta variant has been the main problem. Now, the appearance of Omicron has raised concerns among health experts because of its unusually high number of mutations. That has the potential to make it more transmissible and render existing Covid vaccines less effective.
“What we do know is that early data, and even mutation data, are telling us that this may well be a more transmissible variant than Delta,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, told CNN on Friday.
“This is going to take some time to sort out,” she added. We are prepared, though. We are doing genomic sequencing in all of these states, but it may very well be that we start to see more Omicron than we have Delta. And we will be following that very carefully.”
As of Friday, cases of Omicron had been identified in at least 11 states, but experts say that further spread is expected. The first person to have tested positive for the variant in the U.S. returned to San Francisco from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29, according to the CDC.
The New York Times reported that scientists in South Africa said Friday that Omicron appeared to spread more than twice as quickly as Delta, which had been considered the most contagious version of the virus.
In the Georgia resident’s case, contact tracing is under way in New Jersey and in Georgia to identify close contacts at risk of infection. So far, no additional Omicron cases in Georgia have been identified.
“Vaccination and boosters are key to preventing further transmission of COVID-19 and help prevent new variants like Omicron from emerging,” Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said in a statement Friday evening. “Only 51 percent of Georgians are fully vaccinated, and of those individuals less than 20 percent have received booster doses.”
Scientists in the United States and around the world are working to determine the transmissibility of Omicron, the severity of illness it can cause, and whether currently approved Covid vaccines are effective against it.
Public Health experts say people should take the already existing Covid precautions in dealing with the new variant. That means getting vaccinated, receiving a booster, wearing masks while indoors, and getting tested if one has symptoms of Covid or has been exposed to someone with the disease.
Also Friday, Louisiana’s Department of Health reported the first probable case of the Omicron variant in that state. The case involves an individual in the New Orleans area who recently traveled elsewhere within the United States.
“We now know Omicron is here in Louisiana. This is cause for concern, but not panic,” said State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter.
This story available through a news partnership with Georgia Health News.