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A St. Louis resident is Missouri's first case of the omicron variant

Updated Dec. 6 with new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a St. Louis resident, city health officials said.

The case was detected in a St. Louis resident who had recently traveled within the United States, according to the St. Louis Department of Health. A commercial lab found the variant during a sampling, and the sample was sent to the federal agency to confirm the findings.

Doctors say they still don’t know how contagious or deadly the variant is compared with other strains of the virus.

Missouri health officials say the delta variant still represents over 99% of all studied cases in the state.

As long as the virus is widely circulating it will likely continue to mutate into new and potentially more dangerous strains, said Dr. Steven Lawrence, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

“It raised the alarm to say ‘we need to watch for this very carefully and to study it very carefully over the next couple weeks to see if indeed it would become a major global health threat,’” he said.

People in the St. Louis region should know that they can protect themselves from the virus that causes COVID-19 said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, the city’s health director.

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, City of St. Louis Department of Health director, addresses the media on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, during a press conference on recent federal approvals of the coronavirus vaccine for children 5 to 11 years of age outside of Gateway Elementary School in St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, City of St. Louis Department of Health director, addresses the media last month during a press conference on recent federal approvals of the coronavirus vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old.

“Getting vaccinated for COVID-19, including getting boosters, remains critical to greatly reducing the severity of disease and death,” Davis said. “Also, properly wearing a face covering when indoors around individuals not in your household, practicing social distancing, and regularly using proper hand hygiene practice — washing hands often with soap and water or using hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.”

But Lawrence said researchers need to determine if the new strain of the virus could evade immunity from the currently available vaccines.

“When millions of people across the globe are infected at the same time and there are a lot of infections going around there will be a statistical change that the sequence of mutations will just randomly occur to give a virus new properties to make it more dangerous,” he said.

The St. Louis case comes just days after the first case of the omicron variant was detected in a person in California. That person was a traveler who had recently returned from South Africa. Health officials have since found several cases around the country.

Contact Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
David is the health, science and arts & culture editor for St. Louis Public Radio.

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