Chicago health officials say the rapidly spreading omicron COVID-19 variant will likely be detected in the city "within a number of days."
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a press conference Sunday that omicron is likely already in the city, and should be officially detected in coming days.
"We have not yet detected the omicron variant here in Chicago or here in Illinois," Arwady said. "But I do expect that to happen likely within a number of days. There are multiple examples of case investigation going on right now, where we know that there are people who have been exposed to the omicron variant, that we are doing aggressive case investigation, testing and contact tracing on."
Based on the latest data, Arwady said omicron appears to be twice as contagious the delta COVID variant, which is already causing a surge throughout Chicago and much of the Midwest.
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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined Arwady on Sunday, encouraging residents to receive both the coronavirus vaccine and the booster shot.
"We're down to the dwindling days of this long, hard year, but we won't be able to put this pandemic behind us if we do not step up as a city everywhere, everyone and get vaccinated and get boasted," Lightfoot said. We're concerned about omicron."
On Saturday, Wisconsin recorded its first case of the highly mutated omicron COVID variant in a resident who, according to the health department, recently traveled to South Africa.
According the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the person with the new variant is an adult man, according to the health department, who is a resident of Milwaukee County and recently returned from a trip to South Africa.
Wisconsin health officials said the man was fully vaccinated against the virus and received a booster shot. He reported mild symptoms and has not required hospitalization.
Contact tracing efforts for this case have been completed, officials added.
“We’ve been prepared for this news and will continue trusting the science to help keep Wisconsinites and our communities healthy and safe,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “Now is the time to double down on our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, including the Omicron variant. I urge all eligible Wisconsinites to get vaccinated and receive a booster dose as soon as possible and to follow the latest public health guidance.”
This case is not related to a COVID-19 outbreak that DHS and the City of Milwaukee Health Department are currently investigating, officials noted.
DHS identifies COVID variants through a process called whole genome sequencing, which takes a sample of the virus from a positive specimen and reads the genetic code to determine the genetic makeup, according to health officials.
On Thursday, Minnesota recorded the first Midwest case of the omicron COVID variant via a specimen from a resident "with recent travel history to New York City," health officials said.
The person with the variant, according to Minnesota's health department, is an adult male resident of Hennepin County who had been vaccinated. His symptoms "have resolved."
According to health officials, the person developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and was tested for COVID on Nov. 24. He reported traveling to New York City and attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention from Nov. 19-21 at the Javits Center.
The health department said Minnesota epidemiologists will continue to investigate alongside New York City and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise," Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. "We know that this virus is highly infectious and moves quickly throughout the world. Minnesotans know what to do to keep each other safe now — get the vaccine, get tested, wear a mask indoors, and get a booster. Together, we can fight this virus and help keep Minnesotans safe."
Health officials in both Wisconsin and Minnesota urged residents to get vaccinated against COVID, wear well-fitting masks, get a booster shot if eligible and get tested if you have symptoms.