Governor Larry Hogan today announced that state health officials have confirmed the first three cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) in Maryland residents. The Omicron variant was designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26.
The variant’s presence in Maryland was confirmed by the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) Public Health Laboratory, in collaboration with partner laboratories.
All three of the cases announced today 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 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.”
“The Omicron variant is a new attack on our people by COVID-19, but the army we have built, within county government and our health care system, is battle-tested. The arsenal of weapons at our disposal is effective,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said. “My ask is that every one of us enlist. Please vaccinate, boost, mask, and test, and plead with the people you love to do the same. That’s how we will continue to save lives.”
“The good news is that we know what we need to do to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant. It’s the same as what we do now. Get vaccinated, wear your mask in public settings, and get tested if you have symptoms,” Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said.
Earlier this week, the governor and state health officials outlined the state’s preparedness efforts for the Omicron variant, including further expanding variant surveillance and making free at-home rapid antigen tests available at the international terminal at BWI Airport.
“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.”
Scientists at the federal and state levels are working with international partners to learn more about Omicron, including how transmissible it is; how severe the disease that it causes may be; and if the variant’s genetic changes will alter the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments such as monoclonal antibody infusions.
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.
The CDC tracks case counts of different virus strains identified in the United States on its website.
COVID-19 information and resources are available at covidLINK.maryland.gov. COVID-19 data are available at coronavirus.maryland.gov.