Minnesota reports second U.S. omicron Covid case in resident who traveled to New York City

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A sign outside of a hospital advertises COVID-19 testing on November 19, 2021 in New York City.
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Minnesota public health authorities confirmed Thursday what appears to be the second U.S. case of the omicron Covid variant in a resident who recently returned from New York City, the state’s department of health said.

The man, who was fully vaccinated and has since recovered, traveled to New York City to attend the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from Nov. 19-21, the department said in a statement. The first omicron case was confirmed in California by U.S. officials Wednesday in a person who recently returned to San Francisco from a trip to South Africa.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is scheduled to address the public from Manhattan at 11 a.m. ET.

Health officials in the U.S. and around the world are concerned that omicron is more transmissible and may evade the protection provided by currently available vaccines to some degree. The variant has some 50 mutations, more than 30 of which are on the spike protein that the virus uses to attach to human cells.

“The molecular profile of the kinds of mutations that you see [in omicron] would suggest that it might be more transmissible and that it might elude some of the protection of vaccines,” White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters on Wednesday. “But we don’t know that now.”

The Biden administration on Thursday laid out a plan to combat omicron and a possible winter surge of the predominant delta variant of the virus. The White house is requiring all in-bound international travelers to test for Covid within 24 hours of their departure. The administration is extending mask requirements on domestic flights and public transit through March 18. It is also expanding access to free at-home Covid tests.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday said omicron has been confirmed in at least 23 countries worldwide. The variant was first identified in Botswana last month and brought to the attention of the WHO by public health officials in South Africa.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead, said on Wednesday that hospitalizations are rising in South Africa, but more data is needed before drawing conclusions about whether omicron causes more severe disease.

The patient in California who tested positive for omicron was fully vaccinated, has mild symptoms and is improving, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday. The person, who is between 18 and 49 years old, had not received a booster dose because they were not six months out from their original vaccination course.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Health and Human Services secretary, said the fact that the patient has mild symptoms and is improving underscores the importance of vaccines.

The CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna say it will take about two weeks to gather enough data to determine what impact omicron’s mutations have on the effectiveness of the current vaccines. They have said it would take until early 2022 to develop a shot that specifically targets the variant. However, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the company can roll out a higher dosage booster shot much quicker.

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