SAN FRANCISCO – The first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the United States was confirmed at 4 a.m. on Wednesday after an overnight session by scientists here.
The tightly-connected network of researchers from public health and the city’s academic medical centers worked together to confirm an infection reported six days earlierwas indeed omicron. As soon as the results arrived, they were quickly communicated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The case began on November 22, when a traveler landed at San Francisco International Airport from South Africa, California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press conference.
The person, an unidentified San Francisco resident, did not develop symptoms of COVID-19 until Thanksgiving Day. Two days later, on November 28, they were tested and got the results the next day. Positive.
Although they felt ill, they did everything possible to contact the San Francisco Department of Public Health to alert officials to the positive test and the fact that they had recently traveled to South Africa.
“They did the right thing and were tested and reported their travel history,” Dr Grant Colfax, the city’s director of public health, said at the press conference.
The person had received the full two-dose cycle of Moderna vaccine, but no booster. They were showing mild symptoms and have recovered, but are still in quarantine. Public health officials have contacted close contacts, all of whom have so far tested negative, the CDC said.
Because the patient was from South Africa, which has a large number of known omicron cases, the city’s medical community was on high alert for cases among newcomers to that country.
“I heard about it yesterday around 3 p.m.,” Dr Charles Chiu said on Wednesday. His laboratory at the University of California at San Francisco performed the analysis. Chiu is an infectious disease specialist and director of UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center.
A nasal swab sample from the patient arrived at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, and Chiu’s lab performed a very rapid molecular test that looked for what’s called an S gene drop, where the spike gene is not. detected on the test.
The test returned within two hours and showed the person had been infected with a variant of abandonment. The S genethe stall is found with the alpha and omicron coronavirus variants, so the test only indicated that it could be omicron, but did not prove it.
“To confirm this discovery, we had to sequence the viral genome,” Chiu said. Using a pocket-sized gene sequencer, his lab assembled the entire variant genome in eight hours.
At 4 a.m. in San Francisco, the results came in and the first case of omicron was discoveredin the USA. The CDC was alerted within two hours.
Officials warn that the case is unlikely to be the first in the country, simply the first identified.
“We knew it was only a matter of time,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s foremost expert on infectious diseases.
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UNITED STATES TODAY