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Good chance omicron variant already in Wisconsin, experts say, but it may not be any more deadly

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The new omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness appears to be more contagious than even the delta variant, which makes up 99% of current Wisconsin cases, but it may not be any more deadly. It might even be less deadly.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki briefed reporters Thursday on the latest confirmed case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the U.S. Health officials say the variant has been found in a Minnesota man who attended an anime convention in New York City in November. Officials said Thursday that the man tested positive after returning home and that his symptoms have subsided. Psaki said the man reported "mild symptoms" and public health officials, including the CDC, is currently doing contract tracing on the case.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard headshot

Westergaard

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Department of Health Services chief medical officer, said Thursday there is a good chance the omicron variant is already active in Wisconsin, but “there is a bit of a lag” between when someone tests positive and when their sample’s testing is complete at a laboratory.

Only a couple omicron cases have been confirmed in the U.S., including one in Minnesota confirmed on Thursday of someone who had just returned to the state after going to a convention in New York.

It is “perhaps likely that the omicron variant is circulating more widely in the United States,” Westergaard said.

“What we’ve observed so far is how fast the omicron variant spreads so quickly through a community,” Westergaard said. “We do not have the answer to the question if it causes any more disease.”

Travel bans are already being put in place by President Joe Biden’s administration against south African nations where omicron quickly spread, even though the variant likely originated in Europe. South Africa reported that its total new cases of COVID-19 doubled in a single day due to the omicron variant.

“There will be more” omicron cases in the U.S., White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday.

Westergaard did say that there are “anecdotes” of COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant being less potent than those caused by delta, but there is not enough research to come to any conclusions on that assertion.

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