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Minnesota health officials confirm state's first omicron variant case

The Minnesota Department of Health said a Minnesota resident tested positive for the new variant after returning from an event in New York City.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said lab testing has confirmed the first case of the COVID-19 omicron variant in the state.

MDH said the infected Minnesota resident is an adult male from Hennepin County who recently traveled to New York City. CDC officials said the man was attending the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from Nov. 19-21. The patient, who MDH said is vaccinated, developed "mild symptoms" on Nov. 22 and was tested on Nov. 24. The patient got a booster shot in early November. At least one person who came in close contact with the patient is being asked to isolate after testing positive on a rapid test.

According to MDH, the person's "symptoms have resolved."

"While this is clearly something to take seriously, it's not a reason for panic," said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm at Thursday's news conference. She added researchers do not know yet how severe omicron is or how transmissible it is.

The variant was detected through the department's variant surveillance program, which MDH said is one of the "strongest surveillance programs in the nation," which made it more likely for the variant to be quickly identified in Minnesota.

"What we do know is how to slow the spread of COVID-19," said Commissioner Malcolm. "The most important thing we can do is stay on offense."

“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 in statement. “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.”

MDH emphasizes that scientists are still trying to determine the "transmissibility and disease severity" compared to the more common delta variant, as well as the effectiveness of vaccines and other therapies.

“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,” Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “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.”

The Minnesota case confirmation comes one day after the first omicron variant case was announced in California.

“CDC has been actively monitoring and preparing for this variant. 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 Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “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.”

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