Massachusetts became the 12th state with a COVID-19 omicron variant patient Saturday after a Boston woman was found to be infected with the new strain.
Identified by Boston CBS affiliate WBZ as a Middlesex County woman in her 20s, the woman is fully vaccinated and traveled outside the state before getting sick.
The state joins California, New York, Hawaii, Minnesota, Colorado and at least six other states with omicron-infected patients.
The new variant was deemed a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26 based on the number of mutations the variant has that can impact severity and transmissibility, according to the WHO.
Omicron was first identified by South Africa and is now being detected in many countries throughout the world including Italy, the United States, and South Korea, among others.
According to the WHO, it is not yet clear if the new variant is more contagious or deadly than delta or previous strains of COVID-19, and studies of the current data may take several more weeks to analyze.
"Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with omicron," the organization said in a statement Nov. 28.
"There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with omicron are different from those from other variants."
The new variant, however, is making nations tighten up restrictions on travel, as well as encouraging people to wear masks again in public and continue social distancing to slow the spread of the new variant.
President Joe Biden restricted travel from South Africa and seven other countries Nov. 29 in response to omicron's emergence.
"Here’s what it does: It gives us time. Gives us time to take more actions to move quicker,” Biden said during remarks from the White House reported by the New York Times. “Omicron is) a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."
Health officials said the new variant is a greater reason for people to get the approved COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots.
"It’s going to take time, at least a couple of weeks to get a clearer picture of whether omicron is more contagious, more dangerous, and more resistant to the vaccines," WBZ-TV’s Dr. Mallika Marshall said in the Boston station’s report.
"In the meantime, the best way to protect yourself against omicron, delta, or other COVID variants is to get vaccinated. And if you’re already vaccinated, get a booster."
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