The COVID-19 omicron variant has reached Nebraska.
Public Health Solutions, the health district that covers Fillmore, Gage, Jefferson, Saline and Thayer counties, said Friday that lab testing has identified six cases among residents of the district.
The first case was likely in a person who traveled to Nigeria, the district said in a news release. That person returned home on Nov. 23 and started experiencing coronavirus symptoms the next day.
The other five cases were likely linked to the original case through household contact, the news release said. Of those five, only one person was vaccinated and none of those exposed so far has gotten ill enough to need hospitalization.
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The release did not identify in which county the infected people live.
“The identification of omicron reinforces the urgency for Nebraskans to get vaccinated,” Dr. Matthew Donahue, acting state epidemiologist, said in the release. “The more Nebraskans are vaccinated, the less opportunity new SARS-CoV-2 variants will have to take hold in the state.”
The omicron variant was first identified last month in South Africa and since has been detected in dozens of countries. Nebraska is at least the sixth state to report a case of the variant.
Though the World Health Organization has labeled it a “variant of concern” because of its high number of mutations, there is no evidence so far that it is more transmissible, causes more severe disease or is more adept at evading immunity in vaccinated people or those who have recovered from a previous COVID-19 infection.
Donahue pointed out that the delta variant continues to be the predominant variant in Nebraska, and causes unvaccinated people to be hospitalized at a rate 10 times higher than those who are vaccinated.
As of Thursday, there were 545 people hospitalized statewide for COVID-19, including 155 who were in intensive care.
This is a developing story. Stay with JournalStar.com for updates.
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