(NewsNation Now) — A person in California became the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the COVID-19 omicron variant, the White House announced Wednesday as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new strain of the virus.
Omicron was designated as a variant of concern last week as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new strain of the virus.
The announcement of the first U.S. case came as President Joe Biden plans to outline his strategy on Thursday to combat the virus over the winter. Biden has tried to quell alarm over the omicron variant, saying it was a cause for concern but “not a cause for panic.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29. Fauci said the person was vaccinated but had not received a booster shot and was experiencing “mild symptoms.”
“We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States,” Fauci said.
He said the person was improving and added, “I think what’s happening now is another example of why it’s important for people to get vaccinated. But also boosting. Boosting is very important.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking steps to tighten U.S. testing rules for travelers from overseas, including requiring a test for all travelers within a day of boarding a flight to the U.S. regardless of vaccination status. It was also considering mandating post-arrival testing.
Earlier this week, Biden urged Americans to get fully vaccinated, including booster shots, and return to wearing face masks indoors in public settings to slow any spread.
“Do not wait. Go get your booster if it’s time for you to do so,” Biden said. “And if you are not vaccinated, now is the time to go get vaccinated and to bring your children to go get vaccinated.”
The United States began restricting travel to at least eight African countries Monday as the reports of the variant popping up in countries around the world emerged.
It’s not clear where the new variant first appeared, but scientists in South Africa alerted the World Health Organization, and it has now been seen in travelers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel to the Netherlands.
Adding to the confusion, the Netherlands announced Tuesday that the omicron variant was already in the country when South Africa alerted WHO about it last week. The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23.
Separately, the CDC broadened its recommendation for COVID-19 booster shots to include all adults because of omicron. The CDC had previously approved boosters for all adults but only recommended them for those 50 years and older or living in long-term care settings.
27 COVID-19 variants have been tracked by the World Health Organization. Only five of those have been of major concern.
Alpha, beta, delta, gamma, and omicron are the five variants of concern as described by the WHO. A variant of concern means that the variant has either increased transmissibility, increased severity, and/or significant impacts to global health.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious than previous strains, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said more would be known about the omicron strain in two to four weeks as scientists grow and test lab samples of the virus.
This story is developing. Refresh for updates.
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