Omicron Variant Now Circulating In U.S., Not Just Entering Through Travel

The second U.S. case of the Omicron variant has been identified and it tells us something we all should have already known: It’s spreading in the U.S. It was here early than we thought. It’s not just something to keep out of the country.

After the first case was identified in San Francisco on Wednesday, the second case was identified as a Minnesota resident who had not traveled outside the U.S..

  • They developed symptoms on November 22. This was before South Africa announced the variant.

  • They had traveled to New York City and attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from November 19-21. The may have gotten it there, or may have spread it there.

  • They were tested on November 24 – again before South Africa announced the variant. It’s only now, more than a week later, that we know they were positive with the Omicron variant.

  • They were vaccinated, though whether they were boosted hasn’t been shared. Their symptoms were considered mild and have resolved.

The identified first case, in San Francisco, was in a person who had returned from South Africa – November 22 – again before the announcement of the variant. They didn’t develop symptoms until November 28 and may have been spreading the virus to others before that. But we could say it was a case ‘linked to travel’ rather than spread within the community.

That’s no longer the case. The second case was one of community spread. They got it from someone that hasn’t been identified, who was positive with the variant. That means it is here already.

The U.S. is going to require antigen tests within a day of air travel to the U.S. but that only identifies current infectiousness and not someone incubating the virus. At this point, though, the primary method of spread isn’t likely to be travel in any case. The variant was here before we knew it existed, and it was likely too late to stop it even if travel were banned right away. We still do not yet know the extent to which this variant is more transmissible, pierces immunity, of whether it’s more or less virulent.

And the travel ban the U.S. put in place was silly. It focused only on a handful of countries in Southern Africa, not other countries where the variant was present and not other countries that had not themselves banned travel from Southern Africa. There was no quarantine on arrival. And the U.S., not being an island nation, isn’t well-positioned to stop it anyway. Since there’s zero inclination to shut down domestic travel, if this strain is destined to become dominant then it will likely spread across the country.

It’s here and we need readily available cheap testing, vaccine boosters and likely updated vaccines, as well as therapeutics. Focusing on travel is a distraction when there are few precautions inside the country where at least earlier strains of the virus are already spreading at high levels (and mutating).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The guy who attended the anime convention and got sick was tested for COVID only because his mom heard loud coughing down in the basement…


    Thanks, I’ll be here all week!

  2. Weather covid is real or not I am all for whatever it takes to PERMANENTLY close our borders. Having a completely open borders has been a disasterus policy for this country. It’s time to lock the doors from now on

  3. @ Gary — What is the false positive rate for Antigen tests? I forget the number, but it is way too high. Lots of people will be unnecessarily denied travel and stuck quarantining in foreign countries when they are in fact negative.

  4. @Tom – how surprising that your comments spew from someone who gets confused between “weather” and “whether.”

  5. @ BC — And don’t forget “disasterus”! Perfect example that the root of most of America’s problems begin with our lousy education system. Morons vote for morons.

  6. I wonder if Pelosi or Fauci’s portfolios contain Moderna, Pfizer or other reacted companies. How many of these Omnicron recipients have 1) been hospitalized or 2) died? Exactly.
    Brandon and Fauci are crashing markets and destroying the economy again for nothing….unless of course you’re an illegal alien then things are pretty swell.

  7. Tighter testing for US citizens traveling yet ZERO testing for the hundreds crossing the southern border every day. This administration is a sad joke, playing covid theater while doing nothing that actually helps Americans.

  8. Lab testing is a cash cow. I wouldn’t be surprised if some labs are automatically giving everyone a negative test result so they may travel (for a fee of course).

  9. Gary, it’s time to explore implementing means to limit the trolls. At this point…you’re giving them a platform to amplify their malice.

  10. @ CHRIS — Yeah, I’m sure it is just swell walking a thousand miles to cross the border into a foreign country to escape rapists and murderers, only to be met by asshats like you. White Privilege.

  11. Hey Ariel,
    What you really mean is:
    “I think its time to limit opinions that I don’t agree with.” You’re one of these serially offended people. I laugh at your kind.
    Here’s some good advice for you:
    Why don’t you go take a bath with a toaster.

  12. Gene is just another racist, spewing his racist “white privilege” theories. I am sure he will enjoy his bath with Ariel.

  13. Gary,

    Why do you allow these comments that always turn political? You should implement some sort of real identification protocol or just shut them down altogether. It makes me not want to read your blog at all.

  14. What if omicron is less deadly for vaccinated than delta, but those who catch omicron have some protection from delta? Then the only moral option would be to encourage its spread to reduce deaths

  15. @ CHRIS @ Joe and @ John — Let me guess, you are all Christians? Cause, you know, Jesus constantly talked of hating everyone and kicking the poor while they are down.

  16. Gary it is just not enjoyable to read and participate in comments
    Hey Ariel,
    What you really mean is:
    “I think its time to limit opinions that I don’t agree with.” You’re one of these serially offended people. I laugh at your kind.
    Here’s some good advice for you:

    Gary the final line, *** WHY DON’T YOU GO TAKE A BATH WITH A TOASTER ***, that is over the line.
    That comment should be deleted by you.
    You should notify Chris that he is on time out not permitted to comment for a week.

    I do come here less and less because of the commenting environment.
    It’s time Gary, it’s time, you need to look for help in moderating comments on your blog.
    I know it takes time, which is probably something you do not have a lot of, but you really do need to address this.

    I am deeply disappointed this has happened to your blog, i guess there are people who take joy in just plain wrecking good things.

  17. You could move to a system where comments are not automatically posted. The user leaves a comment and it goes into a que and is only posted once it has been reviewed and approved by an admin. That is just one solution, there are others.

  18. @OlderWoman
    Thanks for stopping by! How many other facets of daily life wind you up as much as comments on the internet? There are plenty of safe spaces in the world if you look hard enough. Perhaps you can take on the role of being Gary’s “Comment Police”? It doesn’t pay much but it will surely stoke your ego and sense of righteousness. Hell, you could only approve comments from the “correct” side of the team aka democrats and then you could further censor by ranking comments in order of the writers ethnicity, race and/or gender identity that day. You could even use it as a platform to educate us unworthy peoples in the Marxist ways.
    I’ll assume by your name that you’re retired and have a lot of time on your hands so this could be perfect for you…..unless OlderWoman really means something else….think large cat.
    Anyway, think it over!

  19. The point of banning travel from southern Africa wasn’t to prevent Omicron from entering the US – we all knew that it was almost certainly here already. It was to try to slow it down. You can’t ban travel from everywhere (unless you’re Australia/New Zealand) but you can try to slow the spread of Omicron by not allowing people to travel from areas where, statistically, a large percentage of the population may be infected with it.

    You’ll never stop a variant without an all-out travel ban (and even that may not work), but you can buy some more time to get more people vaccinated and boosted if you do your best to prevent hundreds/thousands of people from arriving from a statistically high-risk country.

    Obviously, once Omicron takes over as the dominant variant there’s no point in a travel ban, but if you view a ban as a tool to slow Omicron down rather than as a tool to stop it completely, a short-term ban isn’t as pointless as a lot of people are making out. Every day can make a difference.

  20. @Gene,
    Where ever you’re getting your information, you should probably change the channel. “… I’m sure it is just swell walking a thousand miles to cross the border into a foreign country to escape rapists and murderers, only to be met by asshats like you.”

    A majority of those illegal aliens are fleeing shitty economies and shitty governments. They think it’ll be better anywhere else. Unfortunately, they are only delaying the inevitable by choosing the US, where the leftists are trying to convert the US into the same shitty socialist paradise those illegal aliens are trying to flee. I hope Canada is preparing for their coming “Open southern border” problem.

  21. So the story is that we need more cases faster? >10% of the passengers arriving Amsterdam from South Africa tested positive; how many imported omicron cases per day is a good number?

    Seriously, if you’re arguing against any restrictions, then you need to tell us what’s good for the country. 100 new imported cases per day? 1,000?

    I look forward to hear Dr. Gary’s number.

  22. @Gary,

    I think you should delete OlderWoman’s posts. She is clearly a Karen and wants to meddle with our fun. The comments may get a bit raucous at times but it is so much more enjoyable than the banal, inoffensive safe space she would prefer.

  23. Until China comes clean about the origins and honors the WHO requests for lab material and data, trying to control this thing is futile. You cannot solve a problem unless you know the origin of the problem. Western governments, including the USA, are fearful of China. That’s why they haven’t been aggressive in demanding access to blood samples, research databases. If Biden tries to stand up to Xi and demand accountability, Xi will b!tch slap him silly.

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