After the first coronavirus case linked to the newly discovered omicron variant was recorded in California Wednesday, health officials said the COVID-19 threat will likely travel to Illinois.
"We knew it was only a matter of time before the Omicron variant was identified in the U.S. and we anticipate there will be cases in Illinois," the Illinois Department of Public Health posted to social media Wednesday.
Director of IDPH Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the state continues to encourage all Illinois residents age 5 and older to receive the COVID vaccine, wear a mask, get tested for the virus and maintain social distancing in light of the new variant.
IDPH is continuing to perform sequencing to detect omicron in Illinois, according to the post, noting that state officials renewed their request for hospitals and labs to provide specimens for testing.
A person in San Francisco, California who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 became the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the omicron variant, the White House announced Wednesday as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new virus strain.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29. Fauci said the person was vaccinated but had not received a booster shot and was experiencing “mild symptoms.”
The World Health Organization announced last week that omircon has been classified as a "variant of concern."
Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid technical lead for the WHO, said Wednesday that some patients infected with omicron are showing mild symptoms, but there are also reports of cases in which the disease becomes more severe. Hospitalizations could be rising due to a general increase in Covid cases and not necessarily because omicron is more lethal, Van Kerkhove said.
Van Kerkhove said early evidence on omicron, known by the technical term B.1.1.529, shows that the variant has a large number of mutations, some of which have concerning characteristics.
Omicron has also shown to have an increased risk of reinfection compared to other highly transmissible variants, indicating that people who contracted COVID and recovered could be more subject to catching it again with this variant.
Effective Monday, the U.S. has restricted travel from South Africa and seven neighboring countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.