First known case of omicron detected in Montana

The infected individuals were both fully vaccinated

By: - December 20, 2021 4:43 pm

Coronavirus COVID-19 computer generated image.

The first known case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected in Montana, the Department of Public Health and Human Services said on Monday.

“DPHHS officials have detected the Omicron variant through testing of positive COVID-19 samples from two Montana residents in their 30s with travel history to South Africa,” the department said in a news release. “The variant was confirmed today through genomic sequencing performed at the Montana State Public Health Laboratory and at Montana State University.”

The infected individuals, both residents of Gallatin County, had mild symptoms that are improving and are continuing to self-isolate as they have been since returning to the state. The department said both were fully vaccinated, but it was not immediately clear if they received their booster shots.

“This is not a surprise as nearly every other state has reported Omicron cases in recent weeks,” DPHHS Director Adam Meier said in the release. “We continue to urge all Montanans to use all available tools to stay healthy this winter, including getting your COVID-19 vaccine and booster and taking other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.”

An Associated Press report on Monday said that Omicron has emerged as the dominant variant in the U.S., accounting for 73 percent of cases last week. But Delta is the dominant strain in Montana, according to the state Health Department.

Montana is the 46th state with a confirmed COVID-19 case caused by the Omicron variant. On Monday, the state reported 52 percent of eligible Montanans were fully vaccinated, a number that has remained stagnant for months. The state also reported 159 new COVID-19 cases on Monday.

While Omicron is classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a Variant of Concern, DPHHS said scientists are still working to determine how it may compare with the Delta variant in terms of transmissibility and disease severity and are studying the degree to which existing vaccines and therapies protect against Omicron.

The COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant, DPHHS said in the release.

Of specimens collected and sequenced in Montana in November and December, 99 percent were Delta, according to a DPHHS COVID-19 report released on December 10. Delta has been the predominant variant in Montana since July 2021.

“The concern right now for public health officials is that other states in the U.S. are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, which are primarily the Delta variant,” said Dr. Maggie Cook-Shimanek, acting State Medical Officer at DPHHS, in the release. “Given this activity around the country, it’s important that we exercise caution and take proven steps to prevent disease and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 here in Montana.”

To help curb the spread of all strains of COVID-19, DPHHS encouraged all Montanans to take the following steps to protect themselves from becoming infected with COVID-19, including variants like omicron:

  • Get vaccinated and, if eligible, get a booster. To find a vaccine near you, visit covidvaccine.mt.gov.
  • Eligible Montanans who haven’t gotten vaccinated and still have questions should consult with their healthcare provider.
  • Take steps to help prevent the spread of the virus, such as using face masks, physical distancing, practicing hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 when you feel sick or have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.
  • Stay home when you are sick.

For more information on the Omicron variant, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.

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