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First 3 omicron cases detected in Maryland, Hogan says

Maryland officials have identified the state’s first three cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday afternoon.

All three cases were found in the Baltimore region. Two of the cases involved people from the same household. One of those was a vaccinated individual who recently traveled to South Africa. The second case was an unvaccinated person who was in close contact with the recently returned traveler, according to the governor’s statement.

The third case involves a person with no known recent travel history.

None of the three people are hospitalized. The governor said the state is now performing “comprehensive contact tracing” to identify and quarantine people who came into close contact with those infected by the new variant.

The cases were identified by the Maryland Department of Health and its partner laboratories.

“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.”

Maryland is at least the sixth state to report the discovery of the variant since the first case was found in San Francisco Wednesday. The variant, which features at least 50 mutations, was labeled a variant of concern by the World Heath Organization on Nov. 26.

Much remains unknown about the new mutations. Scientists have yet to determine if omicron is more transmissible or makes people sicker. It is also not known how effective current vaccines and coronavirus treatments will be against the mutation, or if those who recovered from a previous infection would be susceptible to the new form.

“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,” said Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman.

The delta variant remains the dominant strain in Maryland and the United States. That variant, first identified in Maryland this spring, now represents more than 99% of all cases in the state.

Maryland in the last month has started to see an expected seasonal increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.  So far, the state has not seen some of the more dire projections for the fall come to fruition.

On Friday, the state reported 1,700 new cases. The 1,204 cases per day based on a rolling seven-day average is 32% percent higher than a week ago and nearly triple the average on Nov. 1.

The 767 total hospitalizations on Dec. 3 is 36% higher than Nov. 1. It is the most total hospitalizations since Sept. 25.

Maryland’s positivity rate is above 5% and the state’s more than 19 cases per 100,000 population is the most since late summer and fall.

Still, the state’s vaccination rate of nearly 79% fully vaccinated appears to be staving off higher case numbers seen in other areas of the country.