The first presumptive case of the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has now hit Florida, state Department of Health officials said Tuesday, signaling the onset of a new chapter in the COVID-19 pandemic in the Sunshine State.
Spokesperson Weesam Khoury said Florida Department of Health staff identified a presumptive omicron case and have since “conducted contact tracing to identify possible exposures and advise on necessary isolation and quarantine protocols.”
FDOH declined to say where in Florida the person infected was or if he or she is symptomatic, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, which first flagged the news.
The department is now awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the case is omicron.
Omicron’s swift arrival in Florida supports early research finding the variant to be three to six times as transmissible as the delta variant.
The health departments of California and San Francisco confirmed the first case of omicron Dec. 1, according to the CDC, which said the person who tested positive was “a traveler who returned from South Africa,” where the variant emerged, Nov. 22.
The World Health Organization classified a new variant, B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern” Nov. 26 and named it omicron four days later.
While omicron had been detected in roughly a third of U.S. states as of Sunday — including in the Northeast, the South, the Great Plains and the West Coast — delta still accounted for more than 99% of all new cases.
Little is known about omicron. With more than 50 mutations already, scientists say omicron marks a significant jump in the evolution of the virus.
But hospitalizations in South Africa, where it is becoming the dominant strain, have not increased alarmingly, indicating it may not be as dangerous as delta.
“Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN. “But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to delta.”