A Minnesota man who tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19 after traveling to a New York City anime convention last month has revealed that more than a dozen of his friends who also attended the packed gathering have contracted the virus.
The man, who has not been identified, reportedly alerted health officials in his home state of the potential spread - which he says affected approximately 15 members of the 35-strong friend group.
It is unclear whether any of his friends contracted the Omicron variant - which is thought to be more transmissible than previous versions of the respiratory virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said there have been no deaths linked to the super mutant variant despite the strain being spotted in 38 countries.
In the US, the variant has spread to 16 states, including new cases in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
As of Saturday, 37 Omicron cases have been identified in the U.S., including eight in New York
Hours before the confirmation of New York cases, Omicron was confirmed in a man who tested positive days after attending a huge anime convention (above) in Manhattan's Javits Center. The man now says that more than a dozen friends who attended the convention with him have since tested positive for Covid. It is not known whether the cases are related to the new variant
According to officials from the Minnesota Department of Health, the group gathered at the crowded convention at Manhattan's Jacob K. Javits Center in Midtown - which drew more than 53,000 people - sometime between November 19 and 21.
In the days following the event, the department says, roughly half of the group tested positive for the virus. Entry to the event required that participants be vaccinated, however, it is unclear if any in the group who got infected were under the age of 12.
The man, - who was one of the first to test positive for the Omicron strain in the US since it surfaced in southern Africa late last month - was fully vaccinated and had a booster shot.
Earlier in the week, the department revealed that the man first experienced 'mild symptoms' of the virus on November 22, the day after the convention ended.
The man then got tested two days later, officials say, and subsequently tested positive for the variant - the second person in the US to do so.
Images release by the Covid Genomics UK Consortium show the drastic increase in spike protein mutations in the Omciron COVID-19 variant when compared to the Delta variant
Members of the friend group hailed from an array of states across the country - prompting fears that the convention contributed - and may still be contributing - to the strain's spread across the nation.
On Saturday, those fears were somewhat confirmed when Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont reported the first case in his state, which was contracted by a man in his 60s who had a relative attend the anime convention.
'This likely is not the only case of the variant in the state,' Lamont said in a statement. 'That being said, I must urge everyone in Connecticut not to panic. While we are still learning more about this variant, our health providers are continuing to do their best to protect everyone.'
The man, who was fully vaccinated, started experiencing mild symptoms on November 27 and was tested on November 29, officials say. His sample was then passed onto the Department of Public Health, which detected the omnicron variant.
'Although omicron appears to be more infectious than the delta variant, both affected individuals have had mild symptoms to date,' Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said.
'It is reassuring as their immunity seems to be helping them fight off this infection. Vaccination and boosters are still our greatest offense. If we can keep people out of the hospital, reducing morbidity and mortality of COVID-19, it is still a win for vaccines in our society.'
Massachusetts also announced its first case Saturday, a day after New Jersey, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Missouri reported their first confirmed cases.
The variant also has been detected in Nebraska, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Colorado and Utah.
The WHO warned it could take weeks to determine how infectious the variant is, whether it causes more severe illness and how effective treatments and vaccines are against it.
'We're going to get the answers that everybody out there needs,' WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said Friday.
Many of the Omicron cases surfacing in the states - and across the globe - look to be connected to people who had traveled to South Africa recently, including the first person in the US to have an identified case of the variant, a resident of San Francisco.
The Minnesota man told health officials from his home state that he had traveled to the country last month, prior to the convention.
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The man, who hails from Hennepin County, has reportedly provided names and contact information of several in his group to health officials.
However, since the friends live in other states, their names were forwarded to those states' health departments, and details of their cases are currently not known.
Earlier this week, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio warned those who attended the three-day anime event to 'immediately' receive a COVID-19 test.
Earlier this week, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio warned those who attended the three-day anime event to 'immediately' receive a COVID-19 test
'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,' The mayor - who has less than a month left in office until Mayor-Elect Eric Adams assumes office - said in a statement Thursday.
'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,' he continued.
Officials fear that the convention, held at the Javits center between November 19 and 21, may have contributed to the spread of the new variant
The conference, called Anime NYC, saw more than 53,000 guests flock from all over the country to Manhattan's Javits Center
He then warned: '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.
The revelation concerning the potential spread of the still largely unknown strain comes as New York health officials announced three more cases of the Omicron variant on Saturday, bringing the total tally of cases linked to the new variant in the state to eight.
'The Omicron variant is here, and as anticipated we are seeing the beginning of community spread,' state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a Saturday news release.
Seven of the cases have been found in New York City, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, and the other in Suffolk County.
The arrival of Omicron comes as hospitals statewide continue to strain under a surge in coronavirus cases, most traced to the Delta variant, along with staffing shortages.
The new variant could also slow global economic recovery, just as the Delta strain did, International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said on Friday.
'Even before the arrival of this new variant, we were concerned that the recovery, while it continues, is losing somewhat momentum,' she said.
'A new variant that may spread very rapidly can dent confidence.'