Omicron in Florida: St. Lucie County is home to first confirmed case of new COVID variant

·2 min read

Omicron has arrived on the Treasure Coast.

A presumptive case of the newest SARS-CoV-2 variant, which causes COVID-19, recently emerged in St. Lucie County, the local Florida Department of Health office confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

That evening, the health department released a statement saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had formally determined the presence of the variant, also known as B.1.1.529.

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The COVID-19 omicron variant.
The COVID-19 omicron variant.

DOH-St. Lucie spokesperson Jennifer Harris did not specify when the person tested positive. No other information about the patient was immediately available.

The World Health Organization on Nov. 26 declared omicron a variant of concern, joining alpha, beta, gamma and delta. In the U.S., however, delta and omicron remained the only variants of concern monitored by the CDC as of Dec. 1.

Omicron was first detected in Botswana and South Africa in mid-November and since has spread to other countries. The first U.S. case was confirmed Dec. 1 in California and by Dec. 6 had spread to at least 15 other states, including Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin, Georgia and New York.

In Florida, a presumptive omicron case also was reported Tuesday at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.

“The patient is experiencing mild symptoms and had recently returned from international travel,” hospital spokesperson Zoë Stagg told the USA Today Network–Florida. “Our providers were able to quickly detect, test, confirm and add this data to our developing understanding of this strain.”

Though the health department’s statement did not clarify whether the confirmed case referred to the one in Tampa or St. Lucie, DOH spokesperson Weesam Khoury told TCPalm it was the latter.

Should I be worried about the omicron variant?

Remain vigilant, but don’t stress too much about the omicron variant is the CDC’s advice.

“We don’t yet know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or how well available vaccines and medications work against it,” the agency’s website says.

Masks protect against all variants, the CDC stressed. And though breakthrough infections are possible, vaccination remains the best way to not only reduce the risk of severe infection but also stop other variants from emerging.

Despite omicron’s novelty, delta remains the bigger concern nationally and in Florida. Over 48,200 delta infections had been reported in the Sunshine State through Dec. 2.

“Florida stands ready to respond through our system of prevention and treatment,” Khoury said in Tuesday's statement. “Rather than focusing on one solution, the state of Florida will continue to adapt as necessary to protect public health as we have done with previous variants of concern and throughout the COVID-19 response.”

Through Dec. 2, nearly 3.7 million Floridians had contracted COVID-19, and over 61,700 had died. About 67% of the population had been at least partially vaccinated.

Jim Rosica, of the USA Today Network–Florida, contributed to this report.

Lindsey Leake is TCPalm's health, welfare and social justice reporter. She has a master's in journalism and digital storytelling from American University, a bachelor's from Princeton and is a science writing graduate student at Johns Hopkins. Follow her on Twitter @NewsyLindsey, Facebook @LindseyMLeake and Instagram @newsylindsey. Call her at 772-529-5378 or email her at lindsey.leake@tcpalm.com.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Florida COVID: Omicron variant reported in St. Lucie County, Tampa

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