BURLINGTON — The Vermont Department of Health has confirmed the state’s first case of the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.
Genetic sequencing identified the new variant in a specimen collected on Dec. 8, the department said Saturday in a release. The individual is a Lamoille County resident in their 30’s. The individual was fully vaccinated and had been experiencing mild symptoms. The Health Department has partnered with the Broad Institute to perform genetic sequencing of samples collected from lab-confirmed COVID-positive cases.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the detection of the omicron variant in Vermont is not unexpected, and that Vermont will see more cases identified in the coming days.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw omicron in our state, and made sequencing a priority,” said Levine in the statement. “Vermont is a national leader in the proportion of positive tests on which we perform genomic sequencing. This is key to our ability to quickly identify and respond to cases.”
Health officials reported 463 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, of which 59 were in the hospital.
Vermont is averaging about 418 new cases a day, down from 582 a day two weeks ago, according to Johns Hopkins data. Nearly 87 percent of residents have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose; 74 percent are fully inoculated.
Global research is finding that the omicron variant spreads faster and more efficiently than Delta, which is responsible for the current surge in cases and hospitalizations in Vermont and elsewhere.
Levine said that the speed at which omicron is likely to become the dominant strain means it is even more important for people to act quickly to be vaccinated and get their booster shots. “As the effectiveness of the initial vaccines begin to wane, boosters provide the protection you need against bad outcomes, including serious illness, hospitalizations and death, especially for people whose age or health conditions make them vulnerable.
“I can’t emphasize this enough: All Vermonters need to be as protected as possible, as soon as possible. So get vaccinated, get children age 5 and older vaccinated, and if you are due to get your booster shot, get it as soon as you can,” said Levine. “Vaccines are our best line of defense against this virus, and our ability to slow omicron’s spread and to reduce the chances of new variants from emerging depends on our being fully protected.”
In addition to being vaccinated and boosted, Vermonters should continue taking these common-sense precautions to protect against the spread of the virus in our communities, now and during the holidays:
• Stay home if you feel sick.
• Get tested if you have any symptoms – even if mild, or if you may be a close contact, or have taken part in activities that could put you at risk, such as large gatherings or travel.
• Wear a mask at indoor public settings and around anyone at higher risk of COVID-19.
• Gather with others safely, which means small group sizes and testing before holiday celebrations.
Associated Press contributed to this report.