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First case of Omicron variant detected in Pima County

Omicron Variant
Posted at 3:39 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-17 00:24:00-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant has been detected in Pima County within the last 24 hours, Pima County Health Director Theresa Cullen told KGUN9 Thursday.

The first cases of Omicron appeared in the state — in Yavapai County — last week. Omicron cases showed up in the Phoenix area earlier this week.

Since the beginning of the month, Pima County officials have said that they suspected the variant has been in the county. The first Omicron case was confirmed in the United States Dec. 1, the CDC says.

The Pima County patient with Omicron initially tested positive for COVID in Tucson in early December. Genetic sequencing confirmed that case within the last day.

"We knew it was a matter of when, and not if, Omicron would be in Pima County," said Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen. "The best courses of action remain the same. Getting the vaccine is highly effective in preventing serious illness and death, including against the variants. If you have been vaccinated, get boosted to stay protected. And follow the other layered mitigation strategies – wear a mask in public indoor spaces, wash your hands frequently and physically distance."

Omicron is spreading rapidly overseas and in other parts of the country. Cullen estimated that it could be twice as contagious—or more—than the Delta variant.

The news comes as holiday travel and gatherings are set to ramp up beginning this weekend with Christmas quickly approaching.

“I think if it’s a group that you are quite familiar with, you know people are fully vaccinated and hopefully boosted… you’re probably OK joining them," Cullen said Thursday, while also saying that she would still recommend gathering outside to reduce the risk of transmission.

“The best thing you can do right now is make sure that you’re vaccinated and have a booster dose on board if you are eligible," said Jessica Rigler, assistant director for the Arizona Department of Health Services. "They do their best work preventing severe outcomes from disease. That means hospitalizations, deaths or very severe illness.”

Breakthrough infections can still happen, so Cullen also recommends those who are not fully vaccinated test for COVID 1-3 days before and 3-5 days after gathering or traveling in order to protect more vulnerable people. She also reiterates that masks are effective in slowing transmission.

“Any large group indoors that are not people that you are normally with, my recommendation is you mask," Cullen said.

A year after a first pandemic holiday season and the first vaccines administered in Pima County, Cullen said the COVID-19 situation is better because of the tools people now have to better test for and protect themselves from COVID-19.

“It is a time for rejoicing: many people have been immunized. But it’s a time to be cautious," she said.

For the latest updates on Coronavirus in Pima County and the rest of the state, click here.

The Arizona State Health Department reported 354 new COVID-19 cases in Tucson Thursday.