The mutated variant of the coronavirus, known as Omicron, was first detected in southern Africa last week. By Friday morning, it was detected in five U.S. states.
The ten total cases were reported in New York, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Colorado. The latest data indicate that the delta variant remains the dominant strain in the country, as it accounts for more than 99 percent of all new cases.
Health officials in both New York and Hawaii believe the Omicron variant is already quickly spreading in their communities.
“This is not just due to people who are traveling to Southern Africa or to other parts of the world where Omicron has already been identified. So that’s the most important sort of epidemiological takeaway that we want to convey,” Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City’s top health official, told reporters on Thursday.
In light of the media’s reporting of the Omicron’s rapid spread across the world, coronavirus vaccination rates in the United States spiked on both Wednesday and Thursday, with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing that nearly 2.2 million shots were given over a twenty-four-hour period. It was the largest single-day tally since last May.
According to the heath agency, nearly 60 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, 70 percent have received at least one shot, and 21 percent of fully vaccinated individuals have received a booster shot.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has confirmed that the Omicron variant has been detected in thirty-eight countries—and early data are now suggesting that it could be more transmissible than delta.
“We do see an increasing growth rate, we see increasing numbers of Omicron being detected,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s coronavirus technical lead, said during a question and answer session that appeared on the group’s social media channels Friday.
“There is a suggestion that there is increased transmissibility, what we need to understand is if it’s more or less transmissible compared to delta,” she added.
Van Kerkhove noted that it is too early to fully gauge the severity of disease caused by Omicron.
“There was initial reports that it tended to be more mild, but it’s really too soon,” she said.
“Everybody who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 regardless of what variant will always start out with a mild disease,” she added. “And so maybe it will stop there with mild, some people are asymptomatic of course, but it may stop with mild disease or it may take some time.”
The Omicron variant is known to have more than thirty mutations to the spike protein, which could be potentially associated with a decrease in antibody protection and higher transmissibility rates.
“This mutational profile is very different from other variants of interest and concern, and although some mutations are also found in delta, this is not delta,” White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this week during a White House COVID task force briefing.
“These mutations have been associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion,” Fauci added.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.