Covid News: Scientists Say Omicron Is Spreading Faster in South Africa Than Any Other Variant

attributed to him…Pete Marovitch for The New York Times

With cases of the Omicron variant now recorded from New York to Hawaii, health officials across the US say community spread of the virus is inevitable, with one case already traveling from an anime convention in New York City to Minnesota.

President Biden counters the troubling new alternative with a strategy that encourages boosters for all adults, and aims to expand testing availability and improve affordability, according to plans laid out in a letter from the National Institutes of Health Thursday.

Mr. Biden reiterated Friday morning that the new measures his administration has taken have been sufficient to deal with the spread of the new alternative.

At the White House, he said, speaking hoarsely enough that he ended up reassuring reporters that he had a cold, not Covid. “Now they say no.”

Additional cases of Omicron have been reported across the country. State health officials confirmed Friday Three cases in Maryland, all in the Baltimore area, and Officials in Philadelphia They said they found one case, a man in his 30s. Six cases were found in Nebraska, one in Missouri, officials said, and one in Utah, related to an individual who had recently traveled to South Africa.

On Thursday, New York state officials announced that they had confirmed five such cases: a 67-year-old woman in Suffolk County who had returned from South Africa; two Queens residents; A resident of Brooklyn. And another person in New York City recently traveled. The vaccination status of most individuals remained unknown.

Another case was identified in a vaccinated Minnesota man who recently traveled to New York City to attend an anime convention at the Javits Center in midtown Manhattan, which hosted 53,000 people over three days. Officials immediately urged all conference participants to get tested.

Leaders in Minnesota credit the discovery of the condition to having robust disease surveillance systems in place.

“This news is concerning, but not surprising,” Governor Tim Walz said in a statement. We know that this virus is highly contagious and spreads rapidly around the world. Minnesota residents know what to do to keep each other safe now — get vaccinated, get tested, wear a mask indoors and get a booster shot.”

A vaccinated Colorado resident who recently returned from South Africa was that state’s first confirmed case. An additional case was announced in California — the first in San Francisco on Wednesday — in Los Angeles County. The affected person was vaccinated and traveled to South Africa in November.

Authorities in Nebraska said Friday that of the six cases involving the Omicron variant found there, only one was in a vaccinated person. They said one of the infected returned from Nigeria on November 23, and it is possible that the other five were exposed through home contact with the person. None of them required hospitalization.

But an Oahu resident with no travel history is the first case of Omicron in Hawaii.

“This is a case of community spread,” the state health department said in a press release. The individual had previously had MERS but was never vaccinated.

At a rare joint news conference Thursday, New York Gov. Cathy Hochhol and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents not to panic in light of Omicron’s confirmed cases, and recommended booster doses to people who qualify. They said it was too early to tell the extent of the threat the alternative might pose to the state.

“We are not at all defenseless against this alternative,” Ms. Hochhol said, adding, “We have no shutdowns. We are not changing our protocols.”

However, Mr. de Blasio said he expects more cases of Omicron to be discovered in the coming days: “We have to assume there is community spread.”

This variant has alarmed scientists and public health officials due to the unusually large number of mutations. But it will be weeks, at least, before scientists can say with confidence whether it is contagious (early evidence suggests it is), whether it causes more serious disease and how it responds to vaccines.

Adel Hassan Contribute to the preparation of reports.


Due to an editorial error, an earlier version of this report misidentified the vaccination status of people found to have the Omicron variant in Nebraska. Five out of six people have not been vaccinated, not one person.

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