Minnesota has its first recorded case of the omicron variant.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Thursday morning said lab testing uncovered the state's first case of the new variant. The specimen was found in an adult male resident of Hennepin County who recently traveled to New York and attended an anime con, MDH said.
The person developed "mild" symptoms on Nov. 22 and got tested two days later, and his symptoms have since "resolved," according to the department. He spoke with MDH, saying he'd attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from Nov. 19-21.
Both MDH and Gov. Tim Walz credited the state's variant surveillance program, including its genome sequencing infrastructure and testing network, for quick identification of the omicron variant. The variant was recently designated as one of concern, but MDH notes that to this point, scientists are still working to determine how it will compare to the now-dominant delta variant.
"This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise," Walz said in the announcement. "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."
On Wednesday, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm spoke to the "critical questions" with the omicron variant that scientists simply can't answer yet, including its transmissibility, its ability to cause more severe disease and the efficacy of existing COVID vaccines.
"This is so new," she said, adding: "It's going to be several weeks probably before the data are clear about those questions."
The latest reports from South Africa state that while cases there are rising quickly, symptoms for reinfected or vaccinated patients so far appear to be mild, Reuters reported.
However, the true extent of the transmissibility, severity, and vaccine efficacy relating to the new variant will not be known for another week or two.
Health officials, including here in Minnesota, have stressed continued use of existing tools to help blunt whatever impact omicron may have: vaccinations, mask wearing, social distancing, staying home when even mildly ill and practicing good hygiene.
“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 Thursday's announcement.