Several southern U.S. states, including Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida, have confirmed cases of the omicron Covid-19 variant as the highly mutated strain takes root in half of all U.S. states.
Twenty-five U.S. states have detected cases of the new strain, a number that health officials expect to increase in the coming weeks, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a White House Covid briefing Friday. The omicron cases come as the nation grapples with a wave of delta infections that has pushed Covid cases over 100,000 per day, 16% increase over the last week and up 23% since before Thanksgiving, according to John Hopkins University data.
Scientists are still racing to answer questions about omicron’s transmissibility, severity and impact on vaccine efficacy. Meanwhile, state, commercial and academic labs across the U.S. are upping genome sequencing efforts to detect more cases of the variant.
Georgia public health officials reported three cases of the variant as of Thursday, all of whom live in the Atlanta-metropolitan area.
The first two cases were announced in a press release on Sunday. One patient developed mild symptoms and tested positive for Covid after traveling from South Africa. The state health department also said it was notified on Dec. 3 about the second patient, who tested positive in New Jersey and is currently recovering there.
The department did not detail the symptoms or severity of their infections.
The third case was confirmed on Thursday in an unvaccinated individual with no recent international travel history. The patient is suffering mild Covid symptoms and isolating at home.
The Georgia Department of Public Health is conducting contact tracing to identify close contacts of the infected patients, according to a Thursday press release.
State Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said vaccination was “key” to preventing the spread of Covid and the emergence of variants like omicron, according to the press release. She also emphasized that delta still drives the majority of infections in the U.S.
“It also is important to remember that even as Omicron is emerging, we are still in the midst of a pandemic currently being fueled by the Delta variant,” Toomey said.
Delta still accounts for more than 99% of all genetically sequenced cases in the U.S., CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walenksy said during a White House press briefing on Tuesday.
Georgia recorded a seven-day moving average of 1,334 positive tests for the virus on Thursday, after that number had bottomed out below 1,000 for most of November, according to data from the CDC. The positive tests have been steadily rising since Thanksgiving but are still far below the 7,000 to 9,000 seven-day averages seen in August.
Louisiana public health officials reported 37 cases of the omicron variant as of Thursday. However, only three cases are confirmed and 34 are still “probable,” the state health department said in a press release.
The first probable case was reported and identified on Dec. 3. in a Greater New Orleans area resident who recently traveled within the U.S.
An additional 16 probable cases were reported on Wednesday, while 20 were disclosed on Thursday alone.
At least 28 probable cases and 2 confirmed cases are in residents of the Greater New Orleans area. Three probable cases are in patients from the Baton Rouge area. Two probable cases are in patients from Northwest Louisiana.
One confirmed case is also in a resident from Northshore, a neighborhood in Louisiana.
The state health department did not provide additional information about the severity of the infections. The department only noted that another patient from the Acadiana area recently traveled internationally but did not require hospitalization after testing positive.
“These new cases of Omicron should serve as a reminder of the ongoing threat of COVID especially as we get ready to gather for the holidays,” said State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter in the press release, also urging Louisiana citizens to get vaccinated and boosted.
Louisiana recorded 439 new cases Thursday, according to data from the CDC, still below its peak in October when the seven-day average hit 530.
The Texas state public health department confirmed its first case of omicron on Monday in a resident of Harris County where Houston is located. The department noted that the patient was an adult female but did not provide more information on her symptoms or when she tested positive.
The Harris County Public Health and the Texas Department of State Health Services are currently investigating the case.
“It’s normal for viruses to mutate, and given how quickly Omicron spread in southern Africa, we’re not surprised that it showed up here,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, the state health department commissioner.
Texas recorded a seven-day moving average of 2,554 cases Thursday, according to data from the CDC. This number is far below what it was in the previous months, with the seven-day moving average hitting up to 9,000 in October and 19,000 in September.
Two cases of the omicron variant have been reported in Florida as of Thursday, a spokesperson for the state’s department of public health told CNBC.
The department was notified of the first patient by the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, the spokesperson said, noting that they are unable to provide details on the case.
The hospital noted in a statement to WFLA that the patient is experiencing mild symptoms and recently traveled internationally.
“Our providers were able to quickly detect, test, confirm and add this data to our developing understanding of this strain,” the hospital said in the statement, according to WFLA.
The second case from St. Lucie County was reported by the state health department to the CDC, the spokesperson added. They did not provide additional details on the case.
When asked about reports of the new omicron cases at a Tuesday news briefing, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would not impose lockdowns in the state.
“In Florida, we won’t let them lock you down, we won’t let them restrict you, we’re not gonna let them impose mandates, we’re not gonna let them close the schools, we are gonna protect your freedom to make your decisions,” DeSantis told reporters.
“And I have no problem if somebody is worried, if they’re scared of omicron and they want to lock down or they want to isolate, that is absolutely their decision in a free society, but you don’t impose Fauci-ism on the whole country or on the whole state, it’s wrong,” he continued.
As of Thursday, Florida had a seven-day moving average of 1,873 positive tests of the virus, according to data from the CDC. This number has been rising over the past few weeks, last reaching 1,800 new cases a day on Oct. 28.