6 cases of omicron variant confirmed in southeast Nebraska

December 3, 2021 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Health officials on Friday confirmed six cases of the omicron variant in southeastern Nebraska, adding to the growing number of confirmations of the new, mutant version of the coronavirus around the country.

The confirmation was announced in a news release by the Nebraska Public Health Solutions District, which covers Gage, Fillmore, Jefferson, Saline and Thayer counties, and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The state’s first case likely stemmed from one of the six who recently traveled to Nigeria and returned on Nov. 23, the release said. That person became symptomatic the following day and sought testing. The five others who tested positive for omicron were likely exposed through household contact with the first case, officials said.

Scientists are working to determine whether omicron spreads more easily or causes more severe disease than the delta variant that now dominates in the U.S. They are also studying how well the current vaccines work against it.

Only one of the six in Nebraska was vaccinated when they became infected, officials said. None of the six had required hospitalization as of Friday. Health officials did not identify those infected with the new variant or say where they live in compliance with patient privacy requirements.

“The identification of omicron reinforces the urgency for Nebraskans to get vaccinated. The more Nebraskans are vaccinated, the less opportunity new SARS-CoV-2 variants will have to take hold in the state,” Nebraska’s acting state epidemiologist, Dr. Matthew Donahue, said in a statement.

Given the realities of international travel, scientists have said it was inevitable that the omicron variant would be discovered in the U.S., and they believe it may have been spreading in the country before scientists in South Africa first reported it.

Scientists monitor variants and the coronavirus’ evolution through genetic tests that are separate from the kinds of tests used to determine whether someone has COVID-19. The Nebraska Public Health Laboratory used genetic sequencing to identify the six omicron cases.