TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Tampa Bay hospital announced Florida’s first confirmed case of the new COVID-19 omicron variant on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa confirmed the omicron case in a statement to Nexstar’s WFLA.
“The patient is experiencing mild symptoms and had recently returned from international travel,” the spokesperson said. “Our providers were able to quickly detect, test, confirm and add this data to our developing understanding of this strain.”
The email from the VA did not include the patient’s vaccination status, but the spokesperson said vaccines are “the best tool we have to ensure the public’s continued health.”
It’s also not clear why the patient, who has only mild symptoms, was admitted to the hospital.
“It is critical for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said. “While no vaccine is 100% effective in preventing illness, the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. provide excellent protection against the COVID-19 variants that have caused surges in the United States so far and are particularly effective in preventing severe illness or death from COVID-19.”
The B.1.1.529 variant, widely known as omicron, was first identified by scientists in South Africa. The Associated Press reported that scientists expressed concern about the new variant due to the high number of mutations in the virus’ spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads. In an attempt to combat omicron spreading in the United States, President Joe Biden announced travel restrictions for several countries.
While it was first reported in several other countries, cases of the omicron variant has since been identified in more than a dozen states including New York, California and Texas.
Before any cases had been reported in the United States, Tampa Bay doctors said they believed the variant was already in Florida.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert and chief medical advisor to the president, said this week that early indications suggest omicron may be less dangerous than the delta variant. Scientists emphasize that more time is needed to learn just how vaccine evasive the variant may be and what its potential for causing serious illness is.