A variant of the COVID-19 virus — Omicron — arrived in the United States on Dec. 1. Since then, over 20 countries have found Omicron cases so far.
First detected in South Africa, health officials believe it will take about two to six weeks before they know more information about the virus, including transmissibility, effects and a definitive answer on whether it causes severe illness.
The first official Omicron case was reported in California, where an individual returned after internationally travelling in Africa. Following that, a New York City anime convention held last month fostered thousands in attendance all in close contact with each other. After the convention, many in attendance contracted the Omicron variant. This convention allows the CDC to study how Omicron is spreading and its transmissibility.
COVID-19 mutates often, and Omicron exemplifies how it can take different forms. President Joseph Biden placed restrictions on inbound travelers, requiring them to complete a negative COVID-19 test closer to their departure date. On Nov. 29, the Biden administration banned travelers from South Africa and seven neighboring countries in hopes of slowing Omicron’s arrival in the U.S.
Florida’s first case was found in Tampa, where the patient had just returned from international travel. Since then, the CDC has confirmed two official Omicron cases in Florida, yet more cases are suspected.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava stated that the county is monitoring the virus. Dr. Peter Paige, the county’s chief medical examiner, has briefed Cava on how to approach the mutation.
Cava echoes health officials’ message that vaccination remains the most effective way to protect oneself from Omicron. Getting vaccinated, receiving the booster shot and masking up in crowds protects one from Omicron as well as other mutations.
Ron De Santis — the governor of Florida — lifted mask and vaccine mandates in Florida just last month. Many are worried that this might allow Omicron to spread quickly, while others believe that more information is necessary before drawing any conclusions.
Health officials urge people not to worry too much about Omicron because they do not yet know enough information about its strength or contagiousness. However, people are encouraged to remain vigilant, especially considering holiday trips and gatherings are just around the corner.