U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky stated during a press briefing on Tuesday that the investigation of the Minnesota man who was diagnosed with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 after attending last month’s Anime NYC event will provide some of the earliest looks on the variant’s transmissibility in the country. The CDC has so far contacted 35,000 of the 53,000 people who attended the event, and has confirmed that attendees came from all 50 states; Puerto Rico; Washington, DC; and 27 other countries.
On December 4, another Omicron infection was identified in a Connecticut man in his 60s, who had a family member who had tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from the convention in New York City.
The Minnesota man is working with the Minnesota Department of Health to assist with contact tracing with his contacts in New York City. He stated that he wants to be a “resource” for public health, and he emphasized that he could have had a more severe illness if he were not fully vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a Moderna booster dose.
The man had spent his time in New York attending discussion panels at the convention and chatting with strangers. He went out for “dinner, drinks, and karaoke” — which are typically maskless activities — together with about 35 friends in the city outside the convention. About 15 of his friends have since tested positive for COVID-19, and they all had mild symptoms except for one whom he said “had a bad day.”
One of the Minnesota man’s friends was also confirmed to be infected with the Omicron variant. Health officials told the Minnesota man that it was likely that everyone who tested positive was also infected with Omicron. (An initial COVID-19 diagnosis does not identify which variant caused the infection; that would require additional genetic tests.)
Anime NYC‘s rules only required one vaccination, and the convention’s website stated that “you can attend immediately after your first dose.”
The Omicron variant has been found in 25 states in the U.S. as of Friday, and it is possibly more contagious than the virus’ Delta variant.
The Anime NYC event took place at New York City’s Javits Center between November 19 and 21. This year’s Anime NYC event required proof of COVID-19 vaccination and mask usage for all participants (those under 12 required proof of a negative test).
The Minnesota man reported mild symptoms on November 22 and got tested on November 24. He was informed to isolate himself from others, and his symptoms have since resolved. He was vaccinated and received a booster shot in November. New York Governor Kathy Hochul urged everyone who attended Anime NYC to get tested for COVID-19. Anime NYC stated attendees will receive an email or call from the NYC Test and Trace Corps or from their local health departments with more information and recommended steps to take.
The Washington Post newspaper reported on December 3 that the Minnesota man had met up with about 35 friends at the Anime NYC convention, and “about half” of them have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Washington Post stated that the friends traveled to the event from a variety of states. Kris Ehresmann — director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health — stated it is currently unknown if those friends who tested positive are infected with omicron or another variant. Ehresmann said to the newspaper, “we’re likely to see a lot of COVID” from the convention.
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is a new strain of the disease, and it appears to have evolved independently from the Delta variant. The World Health Organization (WHO) designates it as a “variant of concern.” The “first known confirmed” sample of the virus was found on November 9 and reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24. The first case linked to the Omicron variant in the U.S. was an individual who had recently returned from South Africa. The individual was fully vaccinated and reported mild symptoms.
Current COVID-19 vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death. Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer and BioNTech are all preparing to potentially change their vaccines to target the Omicron variant. PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron and Delta variants.