ANNAPOLIS — As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of the omicron variant in the United States on Wednesday, Maryland government and health officials are preparing for its arrival.
The CDC announced in a statement the first case in California from a person who traveled to South Africa and returned to the U.S. on Nov. 22.
“If omicron does come to Maryland, we will find it and track it down,” Gov. Larry Hogan said during a press briefing at the State House in Annapolis.
The governor said work has continued by health officials from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University to assess various mutations of COVID-19.
The state’s Board of Public Works voted earlier Wednesday to extend sequencing agreements with both universities and approve an emergency procurement to acquire additional special reagents and supplies to expand the state’s capacity to track and detect COVID-19 variants.
The state will also send rapid coronavirus tests at the international terminal at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport for the nearly 7,000 international passengers that arrive weekly.
The state also distributed 500,000 at-home rapid tests to local health departments, community centers and libraries.
“Getting tested remains one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your fellow Marylanders,” Hogan said.
In terms of vaccinations, the state health department reported that 89% of residents 18 and older have received at least one dose. Nearly 118,000 shots have been administered to children ages 5 to 11.
The state has conducted more than 15 million COVID-19 tests and administered one million booster shots.
A booster shot can be received six months after receiving either of the two-shot vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna or the single-shot version from Johnson & Johnson.
Hogan urged calm as well as “personal responsibility” among residents with the state’s average daily seven-day positivity rate now at 5.1%. The rate stood at less than 3% on Nov. 1.
With some health factors still unknown about the omicron variant, the governor said there aren’t plans to return to more restrictive measures such as staying home or closing certain businesses.
“We are not intending to return to any of those type measures here in the state of Maryland,” he said. “The vast majority of the public after 21 months is somewhat fatigued by some of the measures that had to be taken at the early part of this. But, again, we don’t know what we’re going to find out over the next couple of weeks.”
Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy health secretary, said the omicron variant “is not something unexpected” because of the testing being done during the coronavirus pandemic.
Because it could take at least a couple more weeks to assess the impact of the omicron variant, Chan said vaccinated residents should also receive a booster as added protection.
“There are things people can do and I can’t emphasize this enough,” she said. “That vaccination remains our most important tool to protect ourselves and our families against COVID-19.”
For more information on COVID-19 testing sites, go to https://covidtest.maryland.gov.