NewsDesk  @infectiousdiseasenews

Maryland state health officials reported today the first three cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) in Maryland residents.

Maryland map/National Atlas of the United States

All three of the cases involve individuals from the Baltimore Metropolitan Region. Two cases are from the same household, including a vaccinated individual who recently traveled to South Africa and an unvaccinated person who was a close contact of that individual. One unrelated case involves a vaccinated individual with no known recent travel history. None of the three individuals are hospitalized.

Comprehensive contact tracing efforts are already underway to ensure that potential close contacts are quickly identified, quarantined, and tested.

“Thanks to our aggressive surveillance system, we have quickly identified the first cases of the Omicron variant in Maryland,” said Governor Larry Hogan. “We urge Marylanders to continue taking precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Getting a vaccine or a booster shot is the single most important thing that you can do to protect yourself and those around you. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we will continue to keep Marylanders updated as new information becomes available.”

“Currently available PCR diagnostic tests and rapid antigen tests will detect COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant,” said MDH Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Dr. Jinlene Chan. “In addition to getting booster shots, we strongly recommend that Marylanders who have recently returned from international travel or are symptomatic in any way get tested immediately.”

The Omicron variant has now been reported in nearly 40 countries. The new variant was first identified in the United States on Dec. 1. 

Viruses constantly change, or mutate, and new variants of viruses are expected to occur over time. In addition to the Omicron variant, other such variants identified in Maryland include the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7), and the Beta variant (B.1.351), both first identified in Maryland in January; the Gamma variant (P.1), first identified in Maryland in February; and the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), first identified in Maryland this spring. Of these variants, only Delta and Omicron are still considered variants of concern.

Delta remains the dominant variant and represents more than 99% of circulating strains sequenced in both Maryland and the United States.