Missouri reports 1st presumed case of omicron virus variant

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri health officials on Friday reported the state’s first presumed case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a St. Louis resident.

The St. Louis Health Department is waiting for confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a release from the city’s health agency.

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of the St. Louis health department, said officials were notified about the case around noon Friday. She could not release information about the patient but said “there is no concern about the health of this resident at this time.”

The resident recently traveled within the U.S. It’s unclear if they are vaccinated. Davis said privacy laws prevent her from providing more information.

The St. Louis health department currently does not know of any other suspected cases, she said.

St. Louis residents “should not panic” because of Friday’s announcement but they should continue to practice safety protocols such as wearing masks and social distancing, and should get booster shots if they are eligible, Davis said.

The sample first was sequenced as part of commercial laboratory surveillance, according to the state health department.

Given the realities of international travel, scientists 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 it was detected.

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. This genetic sequencing allows scientists to monitor how the virus changes over time.

The coronavirus is continually evolving, but most mutations are inconsequential. At this point, scientists are trying to figure out whether omicron spreads more easily or causes more severe disease than the delta variant. They are also studying how well the current vaccines work against it.

Donald Kauerauf, director of Missouri’s Health and Senior Services Department, in a statement urged residents to get information on the new variant from the agency and other trusted medical sources rather than social media.

“The Delta variant is still the predominant variant present in Missouri, currently representing well over 99 percent of the cases,” he said. “Citizens are urged to complete their vaccination series for COVID-19 and get their booster.”