Omicron Update: Tampa hospital first to report patient with new COVID-19 variant

Omicron — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Image by: Andrii Vodolazhskyi

TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa Bay hospital announced its first confirmed COVID-19 omicron variant case on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital in Tampa confirmed the omicron case in a statement.

“The patient is experiencing mild symptoms and had recently returned from international travel,” the spokesperson said. “Our providers were able to quickly detect, test, confirm and add this data to our developing understanding of this strain.”

The email from the VA did not include whether the patient was vaccinated or not, but the spokesperson said that vaccines are “the best tool we have to ensure the public’s continued health.”

“It is critical for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said. “While no vaccine is 100% effective in preventing illness, the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. provide excellent protection against the COVID-19 variants that have caused surges in the United States so far and are particularly effective in preventing severe illness or death from COVID-19.”

The B.1.1.529 variant, primarily known as omicron, was first identified by researchers in South Africa. The Associated Press reported that scientists expressed major concern about the new variant due to the high number of mutations in the virus’ spike protein, ultimately making it easier to spread. In an attempt to prevent omicron from spreading in the United States, President Joe Biden announced travel restrictions for multiple countries.

While it was first reported in other countries, omicron cases have since spread to several states including California, New York, and Texas. Before the outbreak hit the U.S., Tampa Bay doctors told 8 On Your Side they believed the variant was already in Florida.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert and chief medical advisor to the president, stated this week that early indications suggest omicron may be less dangerous than the delta variant.

“Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci said. “But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness, comparable to delta.”

Delta remains the dominant variant, making up more than 99% of cases and surging hospitalizations across the north. National Guard teams have been sent to overwhelmed hospitals in Western New York, while Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency order which requires hospitals facing limited capacity to reduce scheduled procedures that are not as urgent.

U.S. officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated and to receive booster shots, as well as continue to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines such as wearing a mask indoors and practicing social distancing. 

“Even if we have a large number of cases that are mild, some of those individuals will need hospitalizations,” World Health Organization epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said. “They will need to go into ICU and some people will die.… We don’t want to see that happen on top of an already difficult situation with delta circulating globally.”

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