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DHS - Wisconsin Department of Health Services

12/04/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/04/2021 19:07

First Case of the Omicron Variant Identified in Wisconsin

Today the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has detected the newest variant of concern, the Omicron variant, in Wisconsin. The Omicron variant, B.1.1.529, was classified as a variant of concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on November 30, 2021. Variants are classified as variants of concern if they show evidence of being more contagious, causing more severe illness, or resistance to diagnostics, treatments, or vaccines.

To date, one case of the Omicron variant has been identified in a specimen from a Wisconsin resident with recent travel history to South Africa.

"We've been prepared for this news and will continue trusting the science to help keep Wisconsinites and our communities healthy and safe," said Governor Tony Evers. "Now is the time to double down on our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, including the Omicron variant. I urge all eligible Wisconsinites to get vaccinated and receive a booster dose as soon as possible and to follow the latest public health guidance."

The Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa in November 2021 and has spread to the United States, including Wisconsin. The Omicron variant contains a concerning number of mutations to the spike protein. Certain mutations on the spike protein were already recognized on other variants and have been associated with increased transmissibility and antibody resistance. It will take several weeks to determine Omicron's transmissibility, impact on disease severity, and the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments against it.

"With the detection of Omicron in Wisconsin, Wisconsinites should stay vigilant in their efforts to stay healthy and to help prevent further strain on our heavily burdened hospital system," said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. "As we learn more about this variant and how easily it spreads, it's crucial that all Wisconsinites continue to practice good public health safety measures like getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, staying home if you're sick, and getting tested."

The person with the Omicron variant is an adult male and is a Milwaukee County resident who recently returned from a trip in South Africa. The person was fully vaccinated and had received a booster dose. The person reported mild symptoms and no hospitalization has been required. Contact tracing efforts have been completed. This case is not related to the COVID-19 outbreak that DHS and the City of Milwaukee Health Department are investigating.

Information on variant case counts is provided by the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene. Variants are identified through a process called whole genome sequencing. Whole genome sequencing takes a sample of the virus from a positive SARS-CoV-2 test specimen and reads its genetic code to determine the genetic makeup of the virus. DHS, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, and other laboratory partners regularly perform whole genome sequencing on a portion of positive tests.

DHS is urging all Wisconsinites to follow these public health practices to protect against COVID-19, including variants like Omicron:

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Get your booster if you're eligible.
  • Wear your mask in public indoor settings.
  • Stay home if you're feeling sick.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • If you're experiencing symptoms or have been identified as a close contact, get tested for COVID-19.

Everyone ages 5 and up can receive a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, the CDC now recommends that everyone 18 and older receive a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine at least six months after having received their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two months after their single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Vaccines are free and you do not need an ID or health insurance to get one. To find a vaccine location in your community visit Vaccines.gov, or call 211 or 877-947-2211.

For up-to-date information about Wisconsin's COVID-19 response, visit the DHS COVID-19 webpage. We encourage you to follow @DHSWI on Facebook, Twitter, or dhs.wi on Instagram for more information on COVID-19.