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Omicron variant detected in Georgia resident, health officials say

The individual, who is described as being fully vaccinated, recently traveled to South Africa and was in Georgia for two days before traveling to New Jersey.

ATLANTA — The Georgia Department of Public Health has announced that a Georgia resident has tested positive for the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

The individual, who is described as being fully vaccinated, recently traveled to South Africa and returned to Atlanta for two days during Thanksgiving before traveling to New Jersey, where she tested positive on Sunday Nov. 28.

At this time, the woman in question is isolating in New Jersey, according to the Department of Public Health. There are also no other omicron cases identified in Georgia by the DPH but they are doing contact tracing, trying to contact everyone in the Atlanta area who was in contact with the woman when she arrived from overseas.

“It is important, indeed, to try to establish whether, during the period that this case patient was in Atlanta, whether there was potential transmission to others,” state epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek of GA DPH said. She wants to find out if the woman might have exposed people on her flights to Atlanta, and then to New Jersey.

For now, health officials are urging Georgians to get vaccinated if they have not already, and receive their booster shot should they reach that time.

“Vaccination and boosters are key to preventing further transmission of COVID-19 and help prevent new variants like omicron from emerging,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Only 51% of Georgians are fully vaccinated and of those individuals less than 20% have received booster doses.”

Medical experts have stated that the omicron variant has more mutations than any other earlier detected strains, which they add marks a major change in the evolution of the virus since the pandemic began. Officials have also said the timing of omicron's emergence is especially concerning as holiday gatherings and travel increase. 

According to the World Health Organization, the new variant could be more transmissible or more resistant to the current vaccine due to its over 30 mutations.

Dr. Drenzek hopes the information she and her team collect about the Georgia woman's omicron infection, and about her contact with others, will not only prevent further spread, but will also help add to the global knowledge-base of how omicron spreads, how potent it is, and how effective existing vaccines are against it.