Omicron COVID-19 variant now discovered in 17 US states
The Omicron COVID-19 strain continues to spread in the United States, but early signs of the strain’s severity are giving the nation some much-needed positive news.
Late Sunday night, a case of the Omicron variant was sequenced in Georgia, making the Peach the 17th state to find at least one case of the variant within its borders, bringing that number of cases nationwide to 39.
The new species has quickly made its way across the country in the two weeks since it was first discovered by South African health officials.
Omicron is a highly mutated strain of virus that is believed to be the most contagious version of Covid yet, and may even evade immunity from the vaccines.
In the time since the discovery of the new variant, cases in South Africa have skyrocketed, although Omicron cases are believed to be relatively mild compared to those of other strains.
A South African health official reports that nearly 25 percent of Covid tests in the country come back positive, up from just two percent before the variant’s discovery.
The new Omicron COVID-19 variant has been sequenced more than 30 times in 17 US states, just a dozen days after it was first discovered by South African officials. New York, and specifically New York City, has become a hot spot for the new variant, with eight cases discovered in the state and one in Minnesota found in a man who had recently traveled there.
Cases have risen in South Africa since Omicron’s sequence was first sequenced in late November, jumping 30-fold from about 300 per day to more than 10,000 per day. President Cyril Ramaphosa reported Monday that nearly one in four Covid tests in the country is positive. Pictured: A woman in Soweto, South Africa, gets a COVID-19 test on December 2
Georgia joined California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin on Sunday night.
The state health department reports that the person had recently traveled to South Africa.
It was the first case in Georgia, but the second among a state resident, as New Jersey officials Friday discovered a case of the variant in someone traveling out of the state.
There have been few cases of Omicron in the US so far, although that may be due to the delay in the order of the cases.
Only five states have discovered more than one case, although health officials warn that the variant is more common than official figures suggest.
California was the first state to discover a case of the variant last week, when San Francisco officials found the variant in a person who had recently traveled to South Africa.
On Friday, the state discovered five more Omicron cases in people who had recently attended a wedding in Wisconsin, and a total of seven cases have been registered in the state.
Wisconsin officials also sequenced a case on Saturday, though it isn’t tied to the wedding, and instead in another man who had recently traveled to South Africa.
New York is the leader in Omicron cases, as of Monday morning, with eight cases in the state, including seven in New York City.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that he would soon introduce strict vaccine requirements in the city that would also include children ages five to 11, a first for the U.S.
Under the new restrictions, children must be vaccinated to participate in some extracurricular activities at school, and must show proof of vaccination to eat indoors, go to the gym or participate in entertainment activities.
Over the weekend, the world overshadowed 1,000 confirmed cases of the new species, just a dozen days since its discovery.
South Africa and the United Kingdom together account for half of those cases.
South Africa has sequenced 228 cases, although officials believe more than 50,000 in the country are likely to be rid of the new tribe.
The country largely had its Covid situation under control just a few weeks ago, but it has quickly entered a fourth wave.
Currently, the country receives an average of more than 10,000 new cases per day, up from just 300 cases per day in mid-November, a 30-fold increase.
“Over the past week, the number of daily infections has increased fivefold,” Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa, said in a newsletter on Monday.
Nearly a quarter of all COVID-19 tests now come back positive. Compare this with two weeks ago, when the share of positive tests was around 2 percent.’
Hospital admissions in Gauteng province, where the variant was first sequenced, also rose with 2,100 people admitted last week for Covid-related reasons – a 230 percent increase in the past two weeks.
Ramaphosa is urging his voters to get the COVID-19 vaccine — as only 40 percent have received at least one shot of the jab and less than 25 percent have been fully vaccinated — to protect themselves against the new strain.
By comparison, nearly 60 percent of Americans and nearly 70 percent of Britons are fully vaccinated.
Unlike other African countries, South Africa has good access to the vaccines and supplies needed to distribute the injection among its citizens.
The problem causing low vaccination coverage is the general hesitancy within the population.
“South Africa now has enough vaccines and we have vaccine stations in every part of the country,” he said.
“As each day goes by and as the number of infections increases, the reasons for getting vaccinated become more compelling and the need increasingly urgent.”
He also calls for mask mandates to be enforced in private companies across the country, and has hinted that he plans to implement other Covid-related restrictions to deal with the recent surge.
Other African countries are also seeing an increase in the number of Omicron cases detected, with 50 recorded in Zimbabwe, 33 in Ghana, 23 in Botswana and 18 in Namibia.
The UK is now the world’s leader in sequenced Omicron cases, with 246 infections caused by the mutated strain as of Monday afternoon, and officials believe the true number is in the thousands.
English health officials also report that: 55 percent of people infected with the strain in the country are fully vaccinated, a worrying sign.
Some fear the new strain will be able to evade vaccine protection because of the large number of mutations it has, especially on the spike protein.
The variant has more than 50 mutations from the original new Covid strain, including more than 30 on the spike protein alone — the part of the virus that infects a human’s cells and is targeted by the vaccines.
British officials warn that this species could cause a huge surge in the winter months, and putting pressure on hospitals through the holiday period.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson may not have ruled out the imposition of lockdowns or other Covid mandates to respond to the threat posed by the new variant.
“We’re still waiting to see exactly how dangerous it is, what kind of effect it has in terms of deaths and hospitalizations,” he said.
The UK now has an average of 45,000 new daily cases, up from 40,000 two weeks ago.
Other European countries, such as Denmark, 32 cases; Portugal, 28; Austria, 28; and France, 25; also see an increase in the spread of the variant.
In all, nearly 50 countries have sequenced at least one case of the Omicron variant since Monday morning.
There are some hopeful signs that this strain of the virus may not be as bad as others, though it’s likely more contagious.
South African officials reported last week that the Omicron infections they discovered were surprisingly mild compared to those of other strains.
dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said last weekend he sees data showing the variant is also less severe.
“So far – although it’s too early to make any really definitive statements about it – it doesn’t seem like there’s a great deal of seriousness to it, but we really need to be careful before we decide it’s less serious or real.” does not cause serious illness comparable to delta,” he told CNN.
“But so far the signs of severity are a bit encouraging. But again, we must hold the judgment until we have more experience.”
The Covid situation in America has started to move in the wrong direction in recent weeks.
The country now has an average of 110,000 new daily cases per day, an increase of nearly 20 percent in the past two weeks.
Hospital admissions are also up nearly 20 percent, with nearly 60,000 Americans currently hospitalized due to Covid complications.
Deaths have been rising, albeit at a slower pace, averaging 1,200 in the US per day, up five percent in two weeks.