Minnesota has detected a case of the new coronavirus variant Omicron in a vaccinated man who had recently traveled to New York City for an anime convention, the state announced on Thursday, an indication of possible community spread of the variant in the United States.
Five cases of the variant were detected in New York, Governor Kathy Hochul said on Twitter on Thursday night after warning earlier in the day that it is “very likely soon that someone is going to test positive for this.”
The New York cases included a person on Long Island who recently traveled to South Africa, residents of Brooklyn and Queens, and another case possibly linked to travel.
The person who tested positive for the variant in Minnesota is a vaccinated man who lives in Hennepin County, which contains Minneapolis, the state’s Department of Health said in a statement.
He started to develop mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and was tested for COVID-19 on Nov. 24 the statement said, and he has recovered and is isolating. The man told state officials he traveled to New York City from Nov. 19 to 21 to attend Anime NYC, an anime convention at the Javits Center.
“This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said in the statement announcing the case. “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.”
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday during a COVID-19 briefing that the man received a booster shot in early November and had not traveled outside of the United States recently.
“Just given the timing ... it seems quite possible, perhaps most likely, that the transmission happened at the convention in New York City, but that’s not definitive,” Malcolm said.
One of the man’s close contacts in Minnesota has tested positive for the virus through a rapid test, and additional follow-up is being done, said Kris Ehresmann, the director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s infectious disease division.
About 53,000 people attended the convention, Ehresmann added.
The Minnesota man’s case raises the specter of community transmission of the variant in the United States, something Hochul alluded to in a Thursday morning press briefing as she told New Yorkers to expect more local cases soon.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Thursday that “we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city” and encouraged people who attended the convention to get tested and take additional precautions.
Hochul urged those who attended an event at the Javits Center from Nov. 18 to 22 to get tested for the virus and said state officials are working on contacting those who attended the anime convention. Proof of vaccination is required for everyone who attends an event at the center.
“There is one way to address this,” Hochul said. “New Yorkers, get vaccinated, get boosted, and get ready. We do anticipate there will be more cases, but to the extent that they are mild, we’ll address them.
“We knew it would come to New York State at some point,” she added.
Dave Chokshi, the New York City health commissioner, wrote on Twitter that “it is likely that this is not an isolated case, meaning that there is ongoing community spread of the Omicron variant in NYC.”
The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the US was identified Wednesday in a vaccinated traveler who had returned to California from South Africa. The person, who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22, had developed mild symptoms and tested positive on Monday. The person is improving and remaining quarantined. They had received two doses of the Moderna vaccine but had not been vaccinated long enough to receive a booster dose. The person’s age was not provided, but officials said they are between the ages of 18 and 49.
The World Health Organization has deemed Omicron a “variant of concern.” Many unknowns remain about the variant, and scientists are racing to learn more about its transmissibility, whether it makes people seriously ill, and if it can evade vaccines.
“Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations,” the WHO said, “some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility.”
In an effort to slow the variant’s spread and buy more time to increase vaccinations, a number of countries, including the United States, have implemented travel bans or restrictions on South Africa and its surrounding countries.
The new variant was identified in the US as cases rise in the Northeast and in Massachusetts, which on Wednesday reported its highest single-day COVID-19 case count since mid-February with nearly 5,000 confirmed cases.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.