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).