1st confirmed omicron variant case in Minnesota connected to NY anime convention

The first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Health announced Thursday. The confirmation comes one day after the first U.S. cases of the omicron variant were detected in California.

The Minnesota Department of Health said the virus was detected through the state's variant surveillance program in a person who recently traveled to New York City for the Anime NYC convention.

FAQ: Omicron variant: What to know about the new COVID-19 strain

Minnesota omicron case: What we know

The person with the omicron variant is an adult male, is a resident of Hennepin County, and had been vaccinated and received their booster prior to traveling to New York. The person developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and sought COVID-19 testing on Nov. 24. The person’s symptoms have resolved.  The person spoke with MDH case investigators and reported traveling to New York City and attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from Nov. 19-21.

One person associated with the infected man has been asked to isolate. 

"While this is clearly something to take seriously, there is no reason to panic," Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a press briefing Thursday morning. 

TRAVEL: WHO urges elderly to postpone travel plans amid rise of omicron variant

Omicron in Minnesota ‘not a surprise’

"Since the beginning of this pandemic, Minnesota’s nation-leading genome sequencing infrastructure and strong testing network have allowed the state to quickly track the COVID-19 virus and better understand its spread. Today, those tools detected a case of the Omicron variant in Minnesota," Governor Tim Walz said in a release. "This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise. We know that this virus is highly infectious and moves quickly throughout the world. Minnesotans know what to do to keep each other safe now — get the vaccine, get tested, wear a mask indoors, and get a booster. Together, we can fight this virus and help keep Minnesotans safe."

MDH officials say they currently have less than 10 samples they are testing for possible omicron variant. 

The omicron variant was first classified by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26. It was first detected in Africa and Europe. There are many unanswered questions surrounding the new variant, including whether it is more contagious than previous strains, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether the vaccine is effective against it.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio issued a statement on the case saying:

"We are aware of a case of the Omicron variant identified in Minnesota that is associated with travel to a conference in New York City, and we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city. We are working closely with the State and the CDC, as well as the Javits Center’s event organizers, and our Test and Trace Corps will be contacting conference attendees. This conference required masks and complied with our Key2NYC requirement to mandate vaccination.

Anyone who attended the AnimeNYC conference, especially anyone experiencing symptoms, should get tested immediately and take additional precautions, including social distancing.

I urge all New Yorkers to get vaccinated, wear a face mask while indoors and in public, and help our city beat this virus once and for all."

VACCINE: Omicron-specific vaccine testing underway

MDH recommendations to prevent omicron variant infection and spread

  • Get vaccinated and if eligible get a booster. To find a vaccine near you, visit Find my vaccine.
  • Wear well-fitting masks in indoor public settings and crowded outdoor settings.
  • Get tested if you have symptoms, have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, have traveled as per guidelines or have been in a setting where you may have been exposed.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Stay away from crowds.
  • Improve ventilation in your home and workplace.
  • Take extra care to avoid exposure to the virus if you have medical conditions or live with someone with medical conditions.

Mayo Clinic expert weighs in on omicron variant

Dr. Matthew Binnicker of Mayo Clinic experts will know within the next two to four weeks if this new strain is the next Delta variant.

"Whichever virus is better at being transmitted from one person to the other becomes predominant. Delta showed us that it was the king of the hill," said Binnicker. 

Preliminary data suggests the new variant may cause milder​​ symptoms but appears to be highly transmissible.

A dramatic spike in cases where it was first detected in South Africa initially set off alarm bells.

"It wasn’t just a gradual increase in case counts. It was a sharp, exponential rise in cases...which is what we saw with Delta in India," said Binnicker.

However, there are still many unknowns about the Omicron variant, which is making an appearance just as the holiday season starts.

Vaccine specialist Joe Kurland of Children's Minnesota recommends keeping the new variant in mind when planning Christmas and holiday gatherings.

"If you can minimize your group size, great. If you can do it in areas that are well ventilated, better," said Kurland.

Kurland also recommends those who are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine or a booster shot. 

For more information on where children can be vaccinated, visit: 

COVID-19 Vaccine for Children and Teens / COVID-19 Updates and Information - State of Minnesota (mn.gov)