COVID-19 Omicron variant discovered in Utah

(Salt Lake City, UT) – The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) today confirmed the state’s first case of COVID-19 caused by the new Omicron variant. The case was discovered through ongoing genetic sequencing of positive COVID-19 samples at the Utah Public Health Laboratory.

The individual who tested positive is an older adult who lives within the Southwest Utah Public Health District and recently returned home to Utah after traveling to South Africa. The person is fully vaccinated, received monoclonal antibody treatment, and is recovering at home after experiencing only mild symptoms. The UDOH conducted a thorough case investigation, including identifying any close contacts of the case.

The person who tested positive and their close contacts have been very cooperative and are following the isolation, quarantine, and testing guidance of public health authorities.

“Given the high number of Utahns traveling in and out of the state, it is not surprising the Omicron variant has been found in Utah,” said Dr. Leisha Nolen, state epidemiologist at the UDOH. “The discovery of this case does not change the way Utah residents should protect themselves, but reinforces that we all need to take this virus seriously. Please take action to protect yourself. Get vaccinated and get a booster dose when you qualify, wear a mask in crowded, indoor settings, get tested early if you have symptoms, and stay home if you are sick or test positive.”

The UPHL has robust genetic sequencing capabilities and can sequence up to 3,100 samples each week. The lab has sequenced 11.6% of all positive COVID-19 PCR samples since the beginning of the pandemic.

There are still many unknowns with regard to the Omicron variant, including whether it spreads more easily, causes more severe disease, and how well the current vaccines work against it. As a precautionary measure, the CDC recommends international travelers who are unvaccinated should stay home and away from others for 7 days after their trip and all travelers should get tested 3-5 after they return to Utah.

Vaccination and booster shots still offer the best protection against COVID-19. The CDC and the UDOH strongly recommend adults 18 and older get booster doses when they are eligible (6 months after receiving their Pfizer or Moderna shots, or 2 months after receiving their Johnson & Johnson shot). Additionally, getting tested immediately upon symptom onset can allow for treatment with monoclonal antibodies, and potentially with antiviral pills that are awaiting FDA authorization.

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