COLUMBUS – The Ohio Department of Health has reported Saturday that the first two cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in Ohio following genomic sequencing by The Ohio State University Laboratory.
“We have known that it would only be a matter of time until a case of Omicron was detected in Ohio. The CDC believes that this variant has likely been circulating in the U.S. since November,” said Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff, MD, MBA. “This variant’s arrival and the continued impact of the Delta variant underscore the importance of our best prevention tool, which is choosing to be vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines, coupled with prevention measures, provide the greatest protection from severe illness resulting in hospitalization or death. If you have not yet been vaccinated, or are eligible for a booster dose, now is the time to go and get your shot.”
The two Omicron, or B.1.1.529, cases were detected in adult males in Central Ohio, and both tested positive on a PCR test on Dec. 7. Both cases had received their initial COVID-19 vaccine series more than six months ago, but neither had yet obtained a booster, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Both patients are currently experiencing mild symptoms and have not been hospitalized. Neither had a history of international travel. Although more information is being gathered, to protect patient privacy, exact age and county of residence are not being released at this time. Public health officials have already contacted the individuals and are in the process of appropriate case investigation and contact tracing.
The Ohio State University Laboratory is sequencing all positive PCR tests, and during the past three weeks, has sequenced about 1,000 positive PCR tests. These two positive tests reflect about 0.2% of all tests sequenced at the OSU lab – the remainder of which were Delta.
“While the arrival of Omicron in Ohio is noteworthy, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Delta variant continues to drive cases and hospitalizations very high. As of yesterday, there were 4,422 patients in the hospital with COVID-19, a high that matches what we experienced in January of 2021 during last winter’s surge,” explained Dr. Vanderhoff. “The hospitalizations in this Delta surge are largely being driven by unvaccinated Ohioans. Severe illness with COVID-19 is largely preventable thanks to vaccines.”
Vanderhoff added more will be learned about Omicron in the days to come, but early reports suggest Omicron may be more contagious and more likely to reinfect people.
“Naturally, there has been concern regarding whether vaccines would remain protective. The results of the early research regarding vaccines are encouraging, reinforcing the benefits of primary vaccination and timely boosters,” he said.
Vanderhoff said reaction to a positive test should not be determined by the variant.
“Regardless of which variant may be spreading, isolation and quarantine remain key in preventing further spread of the virus,” he said. “If you are sick with symptoms of COVID-19, you should immediately get tested. Even if you are vaccinated, it is important to follow prevention measures to protect yourself and others and to minimize the spread of the virus.”
The Ohio Department of Health updates information on the proportion of variants in Ohio each Monday on the COVID-19 Variants in Ohio dashboard. Data on this dashboard lags by two weeks, and when updated on Monday, Dec. 13, the most recent two-week period reflected will be for the period ending Nov. 27, 2021, and will not include the two Omicron cases referenced above.