Latest on COVID: Omicron variant surfaces in Minnesota

People stand in line.
People get tested at the COVID-19 testing site at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last year. State public health leaders on Thursday said the new omicron variant is now in Minnesota.
Elizabeth Flores | Star Tribune via AP 2020

Updated 1:25 p.m.

State public health leaders on Thursday confirmed the new omicron COVID-19 variant, identified Wednesday in California, is now in Minnesota.

The variant was discovered in a Hennepin County resident who’d traveled recently to New York City, the Minnesota Health Department said in a statement.

The agency said the person was a man who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 and recently received a booster shot. He developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and sought testing.

The man, whose symptoms have abated, told investigators he’d attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention from Nov. 19-21, a massive gathering that hosted more than 50,000 people. The convention took place days before officials in South Africa reported the new variant.

One close contact associated with the omicron patient here has tested positive for COVID, but authorities have not yet been able to evaluate that case for omicron. Several other state cases are being examined now to see if the variant is present.

“While this is clearly something to take seriously … it is not a reason for panic,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Thursday. She implored Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the disease, wear masks in indoor public gathering spaces and get vaccinated.

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Authorities are still trying to learn how severe COVID is with omicron and how transmissible it is, Malcolm said. The Minnesota man “most likely” contracted the variant in New York, she added.

Minnesota experts are in close contact with counterparts in New York, where Gov. Kathy Hochul said there are no confirmed omicron cases among state residents there yet but expected that to change, saying, “We do anticipate there will be more cases.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also said in a statement that people should assume there is community spread of omicron in the city.

The omicron news comes as the state’s key COVID-19 metrics appeared to be slowly improving after a massive surge in cases that began in late summer and has pushed into the fall.

Officials remain concerned about a possible COVID bounce from the Thanksgiving holiday that brought many people together indoors for celebrations, the kind of conditions that lead to more viral spread. Hospitalizations and intensive care needs remain high.

Malcolm called the omicron discovery a “wake up call, if we needed another one, that this remains a global challenge that continues to evolve. Even though we may feel we’re done with the pandemic, it’s certainly not done with us.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Listen to Thursday’s briefing by state public health officials: