The first known Illinois case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant has been confirmed according to the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The variant, also known as B.1.1.529 has been identified in a Chicago resident who was a known contact of a confirmed Omicron case from another state who visited Chicago.
The Chicago resident was fully vaccinated and had received a booster dose, and did not require hospitalization but was symptomatic. The Chicago resident is improving, according to the IDPH, and has been self-isolating since symptoms began. Public health officials are performing contact tracing, and more information about the Chicago resident is not available “to protect their identity and protected health information.”
“Scientists need time to learn more about the Omicron COVID-19 variant, but in the meantime, we already know how to be vigilant,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a news release. “So, get your vaccine, get your booster, wear your mask indoors, wash your hands, and get tested for COVID-19 if you feel sick or have been exposed to someone who tested positive. I encourage all Illinois residents to make a plan for how to best protect themselves and their loved ones, especially in the holiday season.”
South African authorities were the first to report the Omicron variant to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24, with retroactive testing confirming the variant to be present in Europe at least five days prior. The variant has been found in more than three dozen countries worldwide, contains a large number of mutations, and has been classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While unsurprising, this news should remind Chicagoans of the ongoing threat from COVID-19, especially as families prepare to come together over the holidays,” CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady said in a news release. “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. Wear a mask indoors, avoid poorly ventilated spaces, practice social distancing, and wash your hands.”
The first case in the U.S. was reported on Dec. 1.
“Public health experts and scientists worldwide continue to study the newest variant, Omicron, to determine if it spreads more easily, causes more severe illness, and how effective the current vaccines are against it,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release. “While we don’t have all the answers right now, we know the general prevention strategies we’ve been recommending – vaccination, boosters, masking, testing, physical distancing – are our best protection against the virus and its variants. As long as the virus continues to circulate, it has the potential to mutate into new variants. Vaccination can help stop circulation, but we need more people to get vaccinated.”
IDPH laboratories continue to perform genomic sequencing of positive specimens to identify any variants, including Omicron. The IDPH has renewed its ask for hospitals across Illinois and laboratories to increase the number of positive specimens they send to the IDPH labs for sequencing. CDPH is part of statewide and national efforts to monitor, track and understand SARS-CoV-2 variants. This includes a partnership with Rush University Medical Center to form the Regional Innovative Public Health Laboratory, which collects a sample of specimens from the large hospitals across Chicago and conducts genomic analyses. This initial case was identified by RIPHL – through sequencing analysis of a specimen, according to a news release.