First case of COVID-19’s omicron variant is reported in Philadelphia

Shown is the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and City Hall in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.

Shown is the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and City Hall in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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A 30-year-old Philadelphia man has tested positive for the COVID-19 omicron variant, the city’s Health Department announced Friday afternoon.

Omicron, which could be more contagious than other coronavirus variants, already had been reported in other states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, and New York. So far, everyone involved has experienced mild symptoms.

Health experts don’t know yet the degree to which omicron could evade available vaccinations. Drug companies already are racing to create a new vaccine that will target it.

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Philadelphians are urged to take precautions, including reconsidering plans for indoor holiday gatherings and activities.

“Since the discovery of this new variant, we have been preparing for the likelihood of an omicron case in Philadelphia,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “A new variant, especially one that may be more transmissible, means that we have to stay vigilant about taking steps to protect ourselves and everyone around us. I know that this news is especially discouraging as we enter the holiday season, but we can get through this together. Now is the time to get your vaccine or booster, mask up, and take extra precautions when you are going out in public or getting together with other households.”

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City Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said Wednesday that it was inevitable that the variant would arrive in Philadelphia soon. On Friday, she encouraged adults and kids to get vaccinated, and all eligible people to get the booster as soon as possible. Bettigole also stressed the importance of physical distancing and wearing masks.

“If possible, avoid crowded indoor spaces, and if you do need to go, consider wearing two masks or wearing an N95. If you get together indoors with others, limit your socializing to only vaccinated people and only get together with one or two other households,” Bettigole said in a statement. “If you are going to see someone elderly or someone with chronic health conditions and can’t do your visiting outside, take a rapid test before you go and reschedule if you have any symptoms of illness. Don’t assume that staying 6 feet from others indoors or wearing a cloth mask alone will be enough to protect you against omicron.”

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