Number of US states with a confirmed Omicron Covid case reaches 20

The Omicron COVID-19 variant has now been detected in 20 U.S. states, with Florida and Illinois both joining the ranks of others on Tuesday.

Late Tuesday night, Florida officials reports that a person in Tampa was confirmed to have a case of the variant.

The person had recently traveled outside of the U.S., though the officials did not say which country.

Officials also did not reveal the person’s age, gender or vaccination status. 

Another case of the variant was also confirmed in St Lucie county on the state’s east coast.

Also on Tuesday, Chicago officials announced that they had detected a case of the variant in a person who is fully vaccinated and had received his booster dose.

As on Wednesday morning, 55 cases of the variant have been sequenced in the U.S., and 1,700 have been detected worldwide.

Many of these cases are appearing in vaccinated people, and Pfizer officials reported Wednesday that the company’s two-dose Covid vaccine regimen may not be as effective against the new variant, but a booster dose would drastically increase the level of Omicron-fighting antibodies.

Yesterday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and leader of the U.S. Covid response, Dr Anthony Fauci, said that he believed the new variant was highly transmissible, but that infection from Omicron was not more severe than that of the Delta variant.

Cases in the U.S. are beginning to surge again, recording 120,000 new cases per day, and 60,000 people are hospitalized due to complications with the virus – both the highest total since late September, towards the end of the summer Delta variant surge. 

Meanwhile in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has focused his response to the new variant by enhancing the rollout of booster shots after early data across the pond also found those who had received the third shot were more protected.

In South Africa, where the variant was first detected last month, cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, especially in the Gauteng province where the variant was first detected.  

Florida and Illinois both joined the growing list of U.S. states that have detected a case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. A total of 55 cases have been sequenced in the U.S., and 1,700 cases worldwide

An African research team found that the Pfizer vaccine provided 40 times less Covid antibodies to fight against the Omicron strain that it does against other variants, hinting that it may be less effective at preventing infection

An African research team found that the Pfizer vaccine provided 40 times less Covid antibodies to fight against the Omicron strain that it does against other variants, hinting that it may be less effective at preventing infection

Florida does not report daily Covid stats, so it is unknown what the current statewide virus situation is.

Most recent data shows the state is averaging around 1,800 new cases per day.

The Sunshine state is ahead of the national Covid vaccine pace, with 62 percent of residents being fully vaccinated. 

While only one case of the variant has been detected in Illinois so far, cases have more than doubled in the past two weeks days, from around 3,000 on November 26 to more than 7,200 on December 7.

‘While unsurprising, this news should remind Chicagoans of the ongoing threat from COVID-19, especially as families prepare to come together over the holidays,’ Dr Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health director, said in a statement.

‘We know how to slow the spread of this virus: get vaccinated, get boosted, get tested if you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, and stay away from others if you test positive.’ 

Illinois has a similar vaccination rate to Florida, with 62.5 percent of residents being fully vaccinated. 

Getting vaccinated may not be the magic bullet many health officials believe it is to fighting the virus, though, now that Omicron has made its way into America.

Pfizer finds that third shot is needed to protect from Omicron 

The pharma giant Pfizer revealed data Wednesday showing that its two-dose Covid vaccine regimen may not be effective at preventing infection from the Omicron variant

Data published by AHRI on Tuesday found that the jab had 41 times less antibodies effective against Omicron as it had against over variants

Pfizer reports that a booster dose increases Omicron-fighting antibodies 25-fold when compared to only receiving the two-shots

Officials could not say whether the jab is still effective at preventing severe Covid infection

The Pfizer vaccine is the most popular in the U.S., having been administered over 275 million times to fully vaccinate more than 110 million people 

Preliminary data from the African Health Research Institute released Tuesday showed that those who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine had 41 times less antibodies with the ability to fight Omicron than they had for other variants.

Pfizer then revealed Wednesday morning that a third shot is required for a person to have enough antibodies to prevent infection from the new variant.

They could not confirm if whether or not the two-dose regimen was still effective at preventing severe infection from Covid.

The company says that its data shows the additional shot provides a 25-fold increase in antibodies that are effective against the variant. 

‘Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,’ Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, said in a statement.

‘Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19.’  

The nation is now averaging 120,000 new cases per day, the first time that mark has been reached since the latter stages of the summer Delta variant-fueled in September.

More than 60,000 Americans are hospitalized with the virus as well, according to official data, a jump of nearly 20 percent from two weeks ago. 

Illinois is also among a group of midwestern states whose hospitals are getting hammered by a recent surge, along with Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

More than 1,100 new hospitalizations were recorded in Illinois from November 10 to December 5, one of the biggest increases in the nation during that period, a data analysis by NBC finds.  

An increase of nearly 1,900 was recorded in Michigan over that time, an increase of over 1,500 in Ohio and just over 1,000 Indiana.

Pennsylvania, which is has over 1,400 hospitalized Covid patients, and New York, with 1,200 in the hospital, are also among the nationwide leaders in growth of hospitalizations as well. 

The variant was first sequenced in the U.S. on December 1 in San Francisco.

The infected person had recently traveled to South Africa and tested positive for Covid on November 22.

In the time since, 55 cases of Omicron have been confirmed in the U.S., with health officials warning that the variant is likely circulating undetected at a rate faster than sequencing can keep up with. 

President Biden responded to the new threat by banning travel into the U.S. from eight countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi last month.

The move was criticized by some as punishing African nations for sounding the alarm about the new variant. 

Cases of the variant detected in the U.S. so far have been generally mild, though, a trend that is also being reported by South African officials.

A Minnesota man who became the second confirmed Omicron patient in the U.S., for example, said earlier this week that he did not feel anything more than just minor symptoms.

Peter McGinn, 30, of Minneapolis, had traveled to New York to attend Anime NYC in lower Manhattan in mid-November.

He attended the 53,000-strong anime convention at the Javits Center with 35 friends. 

McGinn told ABC this week that he was fully vaccinated, and had received his booster shot, but decided to get a Covid test after someone else in his friend group caught the virus.

He tested positive, and further sequencing found he had contracted the Omicron variant.

The man said he suffered a slight runny nose and a small cough, though symptoms were overall mild and resolved quickly. 

‘I do believe that the booster and getting the vaccine helps reduce the symptoms that I had,’ he said.

‘And I would definitely recommend anybody who, when they can, get the booster.’

He told ABC that he now feels fine and quickly recovered from Covid.

The United States also reached a milestone with its vaccine rollout on Tuesday, reaching 60 percent of the overall population being fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Covid situation is beginning to spiral out of control once again.  

The nation recorded 45,000 new Covid cases in 24 hours on Tuesday, a jump of 15 percent from 39,000 cases the previous week.

More Omicron cases have also been recorded in the UK than anywhere else in the world, with 440 confirmed sequences of the new strain as of Wednesday morning. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is trying to supercharge the country’s vaccine booster rollout as early data shows many of those being infected are already fully vaccinated.

A study performed by British experts also found that the booster shots increase the T-cell response to the variant and could help prevent severe infection in breakthrough cases.

Around 70 percent of Britons are already fully vaccinated against Covid.

Officials in the UK are not letting their guard down, though, and warn that even if Omicron cases are more mild than cases of the Delta variant, hospitals in the nation may be put under a lot of stress this winter due to a surge in cases.

Denmark has also emerged as a leader in sequenced Omicron cases, with the small Nordic nation having sequenced nearly 400 cases of the variant.

A Christmas lunch event in the Viborg region, attended by 150 students on November 27 from two local high schools, has been tied to an outbreak of at least 64 Omicron cases.

More than 1,000 people have been deemed close contacts to those infected at the event, and it is believed to be among the largest outbreaks of the variant detected so far.

Covid cases in Denmark have jumped 20 percent in the past two weeks, from around 4,000 on November 24, before the event took place, to 5,000 now a week into December.

Another outbreak of the variant may have occurred at a holiday party held by Scatec, a Norweigan energy company. 

The Oslo based company held a Christmas party in Cape Town, South Africa, in November, bringing dozens of employees to the nation before the discovery of the new strain.

Now, 70 employees of the company have been tested positive for Covid in the weeks since, with 50 others outside the company who were present at the same restaurant the party was held at also testing positive.

Only 13 of the 120 cases have been sequenced as a confirmed Omicron case, though it is believed that all the related cases may be of the new strain.

Denmark high school Christmas lunch leads to Omicron surge 

A Christmas lunch event in the Viborg region of Denmark has been tied to an Omicron variant outbreak of at lest 64 cases on November 27

The lunch was attended by 150 students from two high schools

After the event, 64 people tested positive for Covid, and all were sequenced to have the Omicron variant

More than 1,000 people in the area have been deemed close contacts to the infected 

Denmark is among the world leaders in sequenced Omicron cases, with 398 as of Wednesday morning

Covid cases in the Nordic nation have jumped 20 percent over the past two weeks 

One Scatec staffer is believed to be ‘patient zero’ with the related infections all being tied back to them.

Those who were not a part of the party but were infected are believed to have contracted the virus during a period after the festivities where Scatec employees began to mingle with others in the bar.

While it often takes time for serious Covid infection to develop, it has already been 12 days since the Oslo outbreak was first found, and there has still yet to be any serious cases – a positive sign.

The event turned into a warning call for many in Europe, as all the staffers were fully vaccinated yet the variant was still able to cause breakthrough infections in all of them.

Cases in Norway have doubled since the event in mid-November reaching 3,800 new cases every day in the Nordic nation as of Wednesday morning. 

In South Africa, where the variant was first discovered, cases are spiking as well.

New daily cases have jumped from around 3,000 per day to 11,000 per day in a matter of two weeks, a near four-fold increase.

In Gauteng, the province where the first Omicron cases were sequenced, more than 2,000 Covid related hospitalizations were recorded last week, a doubling from the 865 recorded the week before – and six fold increase from the 321 hospitalizations only two weeks ago.

Despite this, local officials still say that cases of Omicron are relatively minor, though they can not explain the surge in hospitalizations, and why so many of those currently suffering sever cases of the virus are so young.

‘We are hoping that in the coming weeks we’ll be able to also give reasons for why this particular cohort of patient is having increased infections,’ said Dr Ntsakisi Maluleke, a Gauteng health official, said during a news briefing last Friday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said earlier this week that around one in every four Covid tests being adminsitered in South Africa are coming back positive, only weeks after the positivity rate was around two percent. 

South Africa has a relatively low vaccination rate when compared to its American and European peers, though, with only around 25 percent of the population being fully vaccinated.  

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