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North Carolina confirms 1st case of omicron variant

Mufid Majnun

North Carolina is now one of 29 states where the COVID-19 omicron variant has been detected, according to the latest numbers the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Monday.

Mecklenburg County health officials first reported the presence of the omicron variant on Friday, noting that the positive test came from a University of North Carolina at Charlotte student and had been discovered through the university's sequencing program.

State health officials on Monday confirmed the case of the UNC Charlotte student testing positive for the omicron variant but did not identify any additional cases. The state Department of Health and Human Services noted most cases do not undergo genomic sequencing, which is the only way to determine what variant someone has. Such testing is only performed on a small share of positive COVID-19 specimens, and more than 95% of virus specimens sequenced in North Carolina are the delta variant.

The department believes the existing Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will prove effective in reducing risk of severe illness and death from “all circulating variants,” including omicron.

“All viruses change over time and COVID-19 is no exception,” the department said in a statement. “With the holidays, colder weather and a new variant, the best way that people can protect themselves from serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and get a booster when they are eligible.”

UNC Charlotte wrote on Twitter Friday that the student “traveled out of state during the Thanksgiving break and has subsequently recovered.” The county health department said last week that the student was isolated and exposure was limited to one known contact.

On Dec. 1, the White House announced the first U.S. case of the omicron variant. While scientists say omicron is much more transmissible than previous variants, it’s unclear whether omicron causes more severe disease than other variants.

But even as more states identify cases of the new variant, the delta variant is largely fueling a rise in COVID-19 spread. The share of tests coming back positive in North Carolina has surged as the rolling average number of daily new cases has gone up by 136% in the last two weeks. The 1,580 people who were hospitalized in North Carolina with COVID-19 symptoms on Friday represented the highest count since Oct. 22.

Just two-thirds of North Carolinians who qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine because they are at least 5 years old have gotten at least one shot, according to the latest state data, far below the national average of nearly 77%.

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