Coronavirus: Colorado reports first case of omicron variant

Officials on Thursday announced the first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Colorado, marking the third known case of the newly identified viral variant nationwide.

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Gov. Jared Polis said at a news conference Thursday that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed the state’s first case of the omicron variant. Officials said the case was identified in an Arapahoe County resident who had recently visited southern Africa for tourism.

“It is somebody who just traveled to southern Africa and returned,” the governor said. “She is experiencing mild symptoms and is isolating at home. She was vaccinated but had not been boosted.”

Polis stressed that the case was “not community transmission in Colorado. It is a returning traveler from southern Africa.”

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“We don’t yet know the extent of community transmission within the United States. We know if community transmission is happening in Colorado, it is very small. How do we know that? ... We do the wastewater analysis and it has not yet shown up in our wastewater analysis. We also screen roughly 15% of all of the (COVID) tests done in Colorado ... for omicron and other variants. So, if it was prevalent we would know. It doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent,” he said.

Omicron was first identified in Botswana on Nov. 11 and has since spread to several countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, confirmed that the first case of the omicron variant had been confirmed in California. Officials said Thursday that one case was confirmed in Minnesota.

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On Tuesday, U.S. health officials cautioned that much remains unknown about the variant, which has mutations that suggest it could be more transmissible than previous variants or more resistant to the currently available vaccines. Officials have urged people to get vaccinated or get their booster shots to protect themselves against severe illness from COVID-19.

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As of Wednesday, the last date for which data was available, about 70% of the U.S. population – 233.5 million people – had gotten at least one dose of any of the available COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 59% of Americans, or 197.3 million people, have been fully vaccinated, while about 21% of those who have been fully vaccinated have gotten booster shots, CDC data shows.

Since the start of the pandemic, officials have reported 48.7 million cases of COVID-19 nationwide, resulting in more than 782,000 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, 263.9 million cases have been reported, resulting in 5.2 million deaths, according to the university.