First case of omicron variant confirmed in Utah

Posted at 3:08 PM, Dec 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-04 00:21:29-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 was confirmed Friday.

The Utah Department of Health said the person who tested positive with the variant lives in the southwest part of the state and recently returned home after traveling to South Africa.

According to officials, the person is fully vaccinated and is recovering at home and experienced only mild symptoms. An investigation into the case was conducted individuals that came in close contact with the person have been identified.

The person flew into Utah at an undisclosed airport and was driven home by family members without stopping on the way, which could have opened the possibility of putting more people at risk.

None of the person's family members have been found to have the omicron variant.

UDOH claims the person and their close contacts have been cooperative during the investigation and are all in isolation.

The state sequences about 1,500 positive PCR samples every other day, but Dr. Kelly Oakeson with the Utah Public Health Laboratory doesn't expect that number to increase, even with the arrival of the new variant.

“Right now, we’re averaging 8-10 days from sample collection to sequencing result,” said Oakeson, who adds that officials fast tracked this sequencing.

“We actually forgoed waiting for the PCR result and started the process immediately, as soon as the sample came into our building,” Oakeson said. "Our testing capacity in Utah is high compared to other states. We sample over 10 percent of all the positive PCR tests."

Questions surrounding transmission, severity, and vaccine efficacy against omicron remain to be answered.

“We need to keep this under control and the best way to do that is vaccine, masking and trying to stay away from large crowds,” said Dr. Nolen.

Many people wonder, if vaccinated people are still getting infected, how effective is the vaccine.

“Most of the people traveling right now are vaccinated, especially to these international destinations so they’re the ones who are being infected, it’s just which population is exposed it’s the vaccinated population,” said Dr. Leisha Nolen, state epidemiologist at the UDOH.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends those returning from international travel to get tested 3-to-5 days after arriving home. It's also recommended for those unvaccinated to quarantine for 7 days after international travel.