About 15 people who attended an anime convention in New York with a man from Minnesota who was later found to have the Omicron variant also tested positive for the coronavirus, the man told health officials of his state. It is not certain that any of these cases involved the Omicron variant.
The man said his friends – a group of around 30 – had come from across the country for the event, which began on November 19. About half of them also tested positive for the virus afterwards, he told officials.
The The man, officials said, was fully vaccinated and received a booster just weeks before the convention. He recovered from mild symptoms that began shortly after the convention ended and provided the names and contact details of several members of his group to health officials. Since the friends live in other states, their names have been forwarded to health departments in those states. Details of their cases are not known.
The Minnesota man’s case was among Omicron’s first reports in the United States, and it presented a worrying possibility for health officials: the anime convention, which drew tens of thousands of people at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for three days, were a vector for the spread of the new variant, which scientists fear may spread faster than any other variant?
After learning that the man had attended a large convention in New York City, Kathy Como-Sabetti, head of the Covid epidemiology section for the Minnesota Department of Public Health, said, “I thought to myself: “Wow, well, that changes our story. ‘ It changes the image of what we are dealing with.
At the Anime NYC conference, which focused on a popular animation style that originated in Japan, attendees were quite accommodating about wearing masks, the man told officials. But some venues were very crowded, at full capacity, with crowds standing side by side, he said.
Delegates had to provide proof that they had received at least one vaccine and that they had to wear masks, according to the convention site. The rules allowed entry “immediately after” a first dose. People are considered to have full vaccine protection two weeks after a second dose of a two-dose vaccine.
“Time will tell how big he gets,” Ms. Como-Sabetti said. “It’s hard to say it’s a great spreader. We are certainly concerned about this.
Officials warned that much remains unknown: The man and his friends could have been infected in other places – in restaurants, hotels or other places during their travels, or at some other time.
Still, the prospect of a cluster of cases has raised new questions about the country’s virus detection capabilities and the limits of its contact tracing efforts, which have been patchy and limited since the start of the pandemic.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said he was concerned about the contact tracing capacity of health services across the country, given their limited resources and the general lack of public cooperation with investigators. The small number of cases tested for the Omicron variant is also concerning, he said.
“Very quickly, we’re going to see a number of Omicron cases across the country in a lot of places, just like we’ve seen in Minnesota,” he said.
After officials in Minnesota learned that the convention attendee had the Omicron variant, they notified the New York City Department of Health. City health officials said they had started texting and emailing tens of thousands of anime convention attendees, urging them to get tested.
Dr Ted Long, who oversees the city’s contact tracing program, said he was aware of five positive cases so far among New York residents who attended the anime convention. But he said it was not yet clear whether these people had been infected with Omicron or Delta, and the convention was not known to be the site where they fell ill.
“We found no evidence of widespread transmission to the convention”, Adam Shrier, spokesperson for New York City’s contact tracing program, Test and Trace Corps, wrote in an email.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is helping health departments in Minnesota and New York to track all cases, a spokeswoman said, but details were still being worked out on Saturday morning. CDC disease investigators held a conference call Saturday morning with local health officials.
For now, the CDC advises people who attended the conference to get tested for Covid if they have been exposed to someone who is sick or have developed symptoms, she said. Infectious disease specialists said the first Omicron case to be linked to the anime convention was likely identified in Minnesota because that state’s health department has a robust genomic sequencing system, and not necessarily because that the patient was the original index case.
Convention organizers stressed it was not certain where the man contracted the virus.
“It was just a person who was at our event,” said Kelly Comboni, president of Left Field Media, which hosted the convention. “No other mass cases were reported at our event, and we now have well over two weeks” since the end of the convention.