COVID: What we know about the omicron variant after first case is detected in the U.S.

Tourist travel returns in New York
Travelers line up for a COVID-19 test in NYC.
Photo credit: Carlo Allegri, Reuters

A new chapter in the unceasing COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to take shape as the latest variant known as omicron has put the globe on alert. Since Nov. 24, when the latest strain was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), health officials have now detected omicron in more than a dozen countries across at least five continents.

On Wednesday, the first known case of the variant in the United States was confirmed in California, by a fully vaccinated traveler who had just returned from traveling in South Africa to the San Francisco area on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading epidemiologist, the person had not received a booster shot and was experiencing mild symptoms.

Entering Wednesday, the Bronx has averaged 172 new confirmed cases per day — a rate of 12.7 cases per 100,000 — this past week, with City Island being one of the highest pockets of infection.

The City Island 10464 ZIP code saw a seven-day average of 16.7 cases per 100,000, roughly 6 cases above the city’s seven-day median caseload average.

Death rates remain low in the Bronx, and vaccinations continue to climb for the northernmost borough as 73.3% of Bronxites have received at least one dose and 63.6% are fully vaccinated.

A major safeguard for New Yorkers is the high vaccination rate of the state, which currently sits at 76.7%. The Bronx, formerly the least-vaccinated borough in NYC, has seen major progress with four ZIP codes — Riverdale’s 10471, Morris Park’s 10461, Parkchester’s 10462 and City Island’s 10464 — having 80% of its residents receive at least one dose of the vaccine.

Although the omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York’s five-borough area as of Wednesday morning, New York City has issued a health advisory that recommends all residents wear a mask indoors and in public settings.

The new advisory falls short of a citywide mask mandate, city Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said in a briefing Monday.

On the national front, President Joe Biden has urged precaution over panic, as scientists said they needed weeks to understand the true threat of the omicron variant. However, Fauci said Tuesday that the global case tally for omicron will “change rapidly” as it spreads.

“Confirmed cases as of yesterday were 205 in 18 countries, and just this morning, that’s gone up to 226 in 20 countries — and I think you’re going to expect to see those numbers change rapidly,” Fauci said at the briefing.

Dutch health authorities announced Tuesday that they found the new omicron variant in cases dating back as long as 11 days, indicating that it was already spreading in Western Europe before the first cases were identified in South Africa.

As of Dec. 1, these countries have found cases of the omicron variant:

Austria: 1 case
Belgium: 1 case
Botswana: 19 cases
Brazil: 2 cases
Canada: 6 cases
Czech Republic: 1 case
Denmark: 4 cases
France: 1 case (on Reunion Island)
Germany: 9 cases
Hong Kong: 4 cases
Israel: 4 cases
Italy: 9 cases
Japan: 2 cases
Netherlands: 16 cases
Nigeria: 3 cases
Norway: 2 cases
Portugal: 13 cases
Saudi Arabia: 1 case
South Africa: 77 cases
Spain: 2 cases
Sweden: 3 cases
United Kingdom: 22 cases
United States: 1 case

Reach Robbie Sequeira at or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.

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