Daphne Webster-Quinn, a nurse practitioner at Mallory Community Health Center, labels collected specimen during COVID-19 testing in Lexington, Miss., Thursday, April 30, 2020. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

On Monday, the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) reported the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 omicron variant in the state. The case was identified in a fully vaccinated individual who recently traveled to New York. The individual has not been hospitalized. 

 “We were prepared for the appearance of this variant in Mississippi, and we need to remember that Delta is still a very active variant of COVID-19 currently in the state, as well,” said MSDH State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs in a press release. 

 Mississippi is the 17th state in the U.S. to report the presence of omicron. Infections from the variant have been identified in dozens of countries on every continent except Antarctica. 

The first U.S. omicron case was identified on Nov. 29 in San Francisco in a person who had recently returned from South Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health experts have urged caution over panic when reacting to the emergence of omicron. Scientists expect to learn much more in the coming weeks about the new variant. At the moment, much is still unknown about the severity of illness caused by the variant and how it interacts with currently available treatments and vaccines. Dobbs said the best thing people can do right now to protect themselves is to get vaccinated and a receive a booster dose if eligible. 

 “Vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow the transmission rate, and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging. COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death,” he said. 

First identified in Botswana and South Africa, omicron has been called a “variant of concern”  by the World Health Organization. The organization has warned that it poses a great danger to the global recovery from the pandemic, despite the current lack of data on the variant. 

Any person that wishes to schedule a vaccination or booster appointment in Mississippi  can online at covidvaccine.umc.edu, or by calling MSDH’s COVID-19 hotline at 866-498-4948. 

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.