A third Georgian has tested positive for COVID-19 with the omicron variant, the state Department of Public Health announced Thursday.
The patient is an unvaccinated metro Atlanta resident with no recent international travel history, indicating the omicron variant of the virus may be spreading in Georgia.
“You’re going to have local transmission,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, distinguished professor of infectious diseases at Emory University. “That’s how it always starts, first you have people who traveled, and then it starts spreading at home.”
“What this means is, get vaccinated. And if you have been vaccinated, get your booster.”
The patient has mild symptoms and is isolating at home, according to health officials. The state is tracing the person’s recent contacts in order to identify people who might have been exposed to the new variant. The DPH did not disclose the person’s sex or age.
Georgia’s first case of the new variant was detected on Friday evening. That person, a Georgia resident, had traveled through Georgia from South Africa and was diagnosed in New Jersey. Her travel stop in Georgia lasted two days.
The state’s second omicron case was announced Sunday, in a person who also had traveled from South Africa. The omicron variant has now been identified in nearly 60 countries.
Officials have said that there are likely more cases in Georgia, but they can perform tests on only a small number of positive COVID-19 samples to search for it.
The first U.S. case was reported on Dec. 1. As of Thursday afternoon, the CDC had recorded more than 40 cases in 23 states.
Most were young adults. About a third of those patients had traveled internationally, according to the Associated Press.
The omicron variant has mutations that appear to allow it to spread much more quickly than even the delta variant, which drove a spike in cases in the late summer. So far, illnesses caused by omicron tend to be milder than other variants. The omicron variant is young, however, and severe disease takes time to develop, so scientists caution that we will know more about its severity in a couple of months.
Public health authorities have so far reported only mild or moderate symptoms in the three Georgians.
Omicron appears better at eroding the immune response people develop from previous COVID-19 infection or vaccination. But experts say vaccination will probably be important in preventing an infection from becoming severe.
Stephen Kissler, a research fellow in the department of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said immunity from vaccination, including booster shots, and previous infection appear to weaken the power of the virus to cause serious illness.
“I and many of my colleagues are hopeful,” Kissler said Thursday, that previous immunity “will actually be able to still provide us with a high degree of protection against hospitalization and death — against the worst outcomes from SARS-CoV-2 and from the omicron variant — even if it causes major spikes in infections.”
Georgia’s omicron cases
1. Reported Friday, Dec. 3
Resident of Georgia, isolating in New Jersey. Traveled from South Africa, stayed two days in Georgia, traveled on to New Jersey, diagnosed in New Jersey.
2. Reported Sunday, Dec. 5
Resident of Metro Atlanta, isolating in Metro Atlanta. Traveled from South Africa, diagnosed in Georgia.
Fully vaccinated with a booster shot.
3. Reported Thursday, Dec. 9
Resident of Metro Atlanta, isolating in Metro Atlanta. No recent international travel.
Sources: Georgia Department of Public Health and New Jersey Department of Health