Maryland reports 3 cases of omicron variant

Johns Hopkins Virologist Andy Pekosz reacts to new omicron COVID-19 cases in Maryland

Maryland is reporting its first three cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday afternoon.

All three cases are in people from the Baltimore area. Two cases involve people from the same household: a vaccinated person who recently traveled to South Africa, where the variant was first identified last week, and an unvaccinated person who was a close contact.

The third case is unrelated, involving a vaccinated Marylander with no known recent travel history.

None of the three people have been hospitalized.

The governor’s office said comprehensive contact tracing efforts are now underway to quickly identify, quarantine and test close contacts.

Many details about the omicron remain unknown, including whether it spreads more easily, whether it makes people more ill and whether it can slip past the protection offered by existing vaccines.

On Thursday, South African scientists reported preliminary findings showing that reinfections among people who’ve already battled COVID-19 appear to be more likely with omicron than with earlier coronavirus mutants.

Maryland is now the sixth state to report the presence of the variant. The first case in the U.S. was reported in California on Dec. 1.


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State and local health officials said there is no reason to panic but urged residents to take precautions, such as getting COVID-19 vaccine boosters, which were recently recommended for all U.S. adults if it’s been more than six months since the second dose of their Pfizer or Moderna shot (or two months since their Johnson & Johnson shot).

“We urge Marylanders to continue taking precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” Hogan said in a statement. “Getting a vaccine or a booster shot is the single most important thing that you can do to protect yourself and those around you. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we will continue to keep Marylanders updated as new information becomes available.”

Earl Stoddard, assistant chief administrative officer for Maryland’s most populous county, said Montgomery County has been preparing for the appearance of omicron in Maryland.

“We have been anticipating and preparing for this,” he said on Twitter Friday afternoon. “It will be found elsewhere in Maryland, including Montgomery County, in the coming days/weeks. No reason to panic.”

Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman urged vaccinations and boosters.

“The good news is that we know what we need to do to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant. It’s the same as what we do now. Get vaccinated, wear your mask in public settings, and get tested if you have symptoms,” Kalyanaraman said.

As it stands now, about 80% of adults in Maryland are fully vaccinated. More than 1 million Marylanders have received a booster shot.

The variant’s presence in the Maryland cases was confirmed by lab testing. Currently available PCR tests and rapid antigen will detect the variant through a process known as sequencing.

Maryland Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan strongly recommended that Marylanders who recently returned from international travel or who are experiencing symptoms should get tested immediately.

The delta variant, a previous variant of concern that began spreading in the U.S. last spring, is now the dominant strain in the country.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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