MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed that the COVID-19 Omicron variant has been detected for the first time in the state. It’s the second confirmed case of the variant in the country.
On Thursday, MDH said its Public Health Laboratory found the variant in a specimen from a Minnesota resident who recently traveled to New York City. The person is a man who lives in Hennepin County, and had been vaccinated.
The patient said he traveled to New York City and attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from Nov. 19 through Nov. 21. He developed “mild symptoms” the day following the event and sought testing on Nov. 24. His symptoms have since resolved.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke Thursday, urging everyone who attended the Anime conference to get tested. She says the state has a list of all attendees and can contact them. There have been no confirmed cases in New York yet.
In a press conference following the announcement, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that the Minnesotan who tested positive for the Omicron variant was vaccinated more than six months ago, and had received a booster shot in early November.
He has been advised to isolate from others.
Malcolm said the new finding in Minnesota underscores the importance of limiting the spread of COVID-19.
“We still have more to learn about Omicron, but the most important thing we can do right now is to use the tools we have available to make it as hard as possible for this virus to spread,” Malcolm said. “In addition to vaccination and boosters, we can slow the spread of this variant and all COVID-19 variants by using the tried-and-true prevention methods of wearing masks, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate.”
State officials say the variant case was found through the MDH’s variant surveillance program.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, Minnesota’s nation-leading genome sequencing infrastructure and strong testing network have allowed the state to quickly track the COVID-19 virus and better understand its spread. Today, those tools detected a case of the Omicron variant in Minnesota,” Gov. Tim Walz said. “This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise. 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.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement on the confirmed case in Minnesota, saying they are working with both MDH and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“CDC has been actively monitoring and preparing for this variant,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “We have been working closely with Minnesota’s Department of Health and will continue to work diligently with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners as we learn more. CDC has expanded its capacity for genomic sequencing over the past nine months and we have more tools to fight the variant than we had at this time last year from vaccines to boosters to the prevention strategies that we know work including masking in indoor public settings, washing your hands frequently and physical distancing. These methods work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, no matter the genetic sequence.”
The news comes a day after federal officials confirmed the first case of the variant detected in the United States, in California.
The Omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa, is emerging amid the busy holiday travel season. According to auto club AAA, over 53 million Americans were estimated to have traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday, an increase from last year.