Some states activate contact tracing when omicron arrives in the US

The arrival of the omicronic variant of the coronavirus in the United States has prompted health officials in some communities to revive contact tracing operations in an attempt to slow and better understand its spread as scientists study how contagious it is and whether it might interfere with vaccines.

In New York, officials quickly contacted a person who tested positive for the option and who attended an anime conference at the Manhattan Convention Center last month with more than 50,000 people. Five other participants have also been infected with the coronavirus, although officials do not yet know if this was an omicron variant.

“In terms of what we learned about this conference at the Javits Center and these additional cases, our testing and tracking team is immediately working with each victim to find out who else they have contacted. This contact tracing is absolutely “critical,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Once the global epicenter of the pandemic, New York is hosting the nation’s largest contact tracing effort. On Thursday, the city identified four cases of omicron contamination, and a fifth was found in neighboring Suffolk County in eastern Long Island.

So far, this variant has been found in several other states, including California, Colorado and Hawaii.

Contact tracing has been deployed in Nebraska after six omicron cases were confirmed Friday. One of the people recently returned from a trip to Nigeria, and five others were close people of this person.

In Philadelphia, officials were working on contact tracing for a man in his 30s who is the first Pennsylvania resident to be infected with the variant, the city’s health department said.

And in Maryland, officials were quick to track, isolate and verify close contacts of three people from the Baltimore area, the first known cases of the disease in the state. Two from the same household, including a vaccinated person who recently traveled to South Africa, and the third has not recently traveled and is not associated with the other two.

Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief physician of the Association of State and Territorial Health Authorities, said that “more and more” contact tracing efforts are expected in the coming days, in part due to uncertainty about how effective vaccines and treatments such as monoclonal antibodies are. … be against the omicron.

Contact tracing is a vital tool in the pandemic response, allowing health departments to notify people who have had close contact with an infected person and slow the progression of COVID-19.

“Contact tracing can give us insight into how it is spreading and hopefully break chains of transmission to stop clusters and outbreaks, or at least delay them until we know more and understand what our next ones should be. steps, ”said Crystal Watson, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at Bloomberg School of Public Health.

While much is still unknown about this option, early reports are alarming. New COVID-19 cases in South Africa, which first alerted the world to omicron last week, surged from about 200 a day in mid-November to over 16,000 on Friday.

In some cases, the US involves people who have not recently traveled, meaning that the option has probably already circulated domestically in some parts of the country.

In New York City, the three-day anime festival in November presents a staff problem for tracers due to the large number of visitors. One of the well-known omicronic infections occurred in a Minnesota man.

Officials have warned against directly linking five other coronavirus cases to the event.

“The really important point here is that there are five cases out of the denominator of tens of thousands of people at this conference. Moreover, we have not established any connection between these five cases and the widespread transmission of information at the conference, ”said Ted Long. , executive director of NYC Test & Trace Corps, which launches the city’s contact tracing program.

City law required proof of vaccination for hospitalization, and masks were also required.

Officials said they contacted all 36,500 conference attendees, suppliers and exhibitors for whom they had contact information via email, text messages or telephone. But they decided that there was no need to contact every visitor, as the infected person did not appear to have close contacts from New York.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, officials are examining the “circle of contacts” of a person believed to have been infected at the conference, said Chris Ehresmann, the state’s director of infectious diseases.

“We kind of pointed out where it was — an anime convention in New York — because there were so many people at the event. Neither he nor anyone else would have been able to identify everyone they potentially were with. contact, “said Ehresmann.

Amid the spike in the delta variant, medical researchers in the United States were stunned and scaled back contact tracing, finding it nearly impossible to cope with the flood of new infections while administering vaccines and tracking.

Many health officials ended up focusing on exposures in schools or potential superproliferation incidents where large numbers of people were at risk of infection.

Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, expects this to eventually happen with the omicron.

“Contact tracing and sequencing will allow us to paint with a wide brush,” Schaffner said. “But we won’t be able to trace it back to every incident, and at a certain point, when you know that it is here and spreading, why would we do it?”

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