A Georgia woman who is New Jersey’s first recorded case of the COVID-19 omicron variant arrived in the Garden State by plane on the same day she tested positive for the virus, health officials confirmed Sunday.
In an attempt to curb the spread of the latest variant that is now circulating across the globe, New Jersey officials have notified the federal Centers for Disease Control to contact health departments in states where other passengers on that plane traveled to or from, said Donna Leusner, a Health Department spokeswoman.
Not much has been made public about the woman and her interactions. But state health officials provided some more details over the weekend after Gov. Phil Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli made the announcement of the case late Friday.
The woman arrived in New Jersey by plane on Nov. 28. She did not feel well and sought care at an unidentified emergency room in North Jersey. She tested positive for COVID and was immediately isolated.
Her specimen was found to be omicron after it underwent genomic sequencing by the state Health Department’s laboratory. Her symptoms have been described as “moderate” by health officials.
The woman is still in New Jersey, but officials would not give out any other information on where she is quarantined or which hospital she was treated to maintain her privacy, said Dawn Thomas, a Health Department spokeswoman.
She had not attended any large indoor events in New Jersey. “Contact tracing is being prioritized” for anyone the woman came in contact with, Thomas said.
The woman is fully vaccinated and had recently traveled to South Africa where omicron was first detected by scientists two weeks ago. She is between 50 and 64 years old, Thomas said.
The hospital where the woman was treated is following standard infection prevention methods developed during the pandemic. COVID specimens from that hospital are not being given priority for genomic sequencing, which can determine if the strain is omicron, Thomas said.
“The department doesn’t believe that is necessary at this time,” Thomas said.
Omicron has begun to be detected in more and more states, but a lot is still unknown about the latest variant.
Scientists caution that it is too early to determine how fast it can spread, if it causes severe illness and how effective vaccines are against it. The variant was detected less than two weeks ago by scientists in South Africa where cases have begun to rise.
Health officials say proven measures to combat the spread of COVID – like wearing masks indoors and getting vaccinated – should continue.
The first U.S. case of the omicron variant was reported in California on Wednesday. New York identified five cases of the variant late Thursday — four cases were traced to New York City.
And after the omicron variant was detected in a Minnesota man who attended a large convention in New York City two weeks ago, New Jersey health officials this week urged any state resident who attended to get tested immediately.
Persichilli had said her staff is standing by to help track down any New Jerseyan who may have come into contact with the Minnesota man at the Anime NYC convention, which took place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
Coronavirus is continuing to spread in New Jersey.
As of Friday, there were 1,118 COVID patients in New Jersey hospitals – the highest amount since Sept. 22. when the virus was peaking from its summer surge due to the highly transmissible delta variant. Numbers dropped in October and through mid-November but have begun to rise sharply in the past few weeks as more people gather indoors where the virus is much more transmissible.
There were about three times as many COVID patients in the hospitals a year ago when vaccines had not yet become available.
Murphy urged residents to wear masks, get vaccinated and get a booster shot to reduce the spread of the virus.
Scott Fallon has covered the COVID-19 pandemic since its onset in March 2020. To get unlimited access to the latest news about the pandemic’s impact on New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.