Omicron: A new variant of COVID-19

What is Omicron?

Omicron (B.1.1.529) is a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Omicron was first detected in the United States on December 1, 2021, in a traveler who had returned to California from South Africa. Right now though, Delta is still the dominant variant in the U.S. and Utah and represents more than 99% of circulating strains. 

There is still a lot to learn about Omicron. Scientists are still working to better understand Omicron, how it spreads, whether vaccines protect against it, and how severe it is. We will update you as we learn more.

Is Omicron in Utah? 

The first case of COVID-19 caused by the new Omicron variant was discovered in Utah on December 3, 2021 through ongoing genetic sequencing of positive COVID-19 samples at the Utah Public Health Laboratory (UPHL).

  • The UPHL has robust genetic sequencing capabilities and can sequence up to 3,100 samples each week. Only PCR samples can be genetically sequenced for variants. The lab has sequenced 11.6% of all positive COVID-19 PCR samples since the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • The person who tested positive for the Omicron variant is an older adult who lives within the Southwest Utah Public Health District and recently returned home to Utah after traveling to South Africa. The person is fully vaccinated, received monoclonal antibody treatment, and is recovering at home after experiencing only mild symptoms. The Utah Department of Health conducted a thorough case investigation, including identifying any close contacts of the case. The person who tested positive and their close contacts have been very cooperative and are following the isolation, quarantine, and testing guidance of public health authorities.

How do I keep myself and others safe from COVID-19?

Although we are still learning about Omicron, we’ve been fighting COVID-19 since last year and know what prevention strategies help protect people from COVID-19. 

  • Get vaccinated. Everyone 5 years or older should protect themselves by getting fully vaccinated. Everyone 18 years or older should also get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose when eligible. Vaccination is still the best protection we have against any variant of COVID-19.
  • Watch for symptoms of COVID. Symptoms may include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, unusual tiredness, cough, fever, muscle or body aches, headache, feeling sick to your stomach or vomiting, diarrhea, or the loss of taste or smell.
  • Get tested test right away if you have symptoms of COVID-19. Treatments for COVID-19 work best early in a person’s illness. Getting tested immediately upon symptom onset can allow for treatment with monoclonal antibodies, and potentially with antiviral pills that are waiting for FDA authorization.
  • Keep your distance.Stay at least 6 feet away from people outside your home and those within your home who are sick.
  • Increase ventilation. Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Use the interactive ventilation tool to learn how to reduce virus particles in your home.
  • Wash your hands often. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Test to prevent spread. Consider getting tested or using a self-test before joining indoor gatherings with others who are not in your household.

What should I do if I’ve recently returned from international travel?

The CDC encourages all travelers regardless of vaccination status to take extra precautions after international travel

  • Get tested for COVID-19 3-5 days after traveling to another country. 

If you aren’t fully vaccinated, quarantine at home for a full 7 days after international travel, even if you’ve recently had a negative COVID-19 test result. If you don’t get tested after returning from your trip, quarantine at home for 10 days after international travel.