Second U.S. case of omicron detected in Minnesota

By: - December 2, 2021 10:16 am

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The second U.S. case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 was reported in Minnesota on Thursday, leading the governor to ask residents to renew their efforts to slow the spread.

“This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. “Minnesotans know what to do to keep each other safe now — get the vaccine, get tested, wear a mask indoors, and get a booster.”

The news comes just a day after reports that the first case in the country was detected in a California resident who had recently returned from South Africa, where the variant was first identified. The California resident was tested for COVID-19 on Sunday after beginning to feel ill on Nov. 25.

Following reports of the new strain, countries across the globe moved quickly to restrict travel from southern Africa. But the cases found in California and Minnesota show the variant had already arrived in the United States before President Joe Biden moved to restrict travel. The variant has since been confirmed in more than two dozen countries.

The Minnesota patient is a Hennepin County resident who had returned from an anime convention in New York City two weeks ago. The man, who was vaccinated, developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 24, the same day the variant was first reported to the World Health Organization by scientists in South Africa. The man’s symptoms have since resolved, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The Health Department attributed the quick identification of the variant in Minnesota to the state having “one of the strongest (variant) surveillance programs in the nation.”

The omicron variant, called “a variant of concern,” by the World Health Organization, is believed to be even more infectious than the delta variant.

The variant has likely reached many more states than Minnesota and California, given not every sick person seeks a COVID-19 test and not every COVD-19 test is screened for the omicron variant.

Biden will announce new measures on Thursday in light of the new variant, including tightening testing protocols for inbound international travels, bolstering efforts to get Americans vaccinated and boosted and expanding federal emergency response teams to aid states suffering from outbreaks.

Minnesota has had among the highest rates of infection in the country in recent weeks, baffling experts given the state’s relatively high vaccination rate and prompting Walz to call on the U.S. Department of Defense to assist in treating patients in the state’s beleaguered hospitals.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.