Kentucky and Maine said Friday that the states had detected their first cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that Bar Harbor’s Jackson Laboratory had conducted genomic sequencing to confirm the variant in five samples from Penobscot County.
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Democratic Gov. Janet Mills called the news “unwelcome but not unexpected” and encouraged residents to take precautions.
“While we are still learning about this new variant, the take-away for Maine people should be this: get vaccinated now and wear a mask when you’re indoors in public,” she said.
Kentucky’s Republican Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday that that state had also confirmed its first omicron case.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks as he attends a briefing from local leaders on the storm damage from tornadoes and extreme weather with President Joe Biden at Mayfield Graves County Airport in Mayfield, Ky., Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
“As expected, Kentucky has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant,” Beshear wrote in a tweet.
Last week, the leader said cases of COVID-19 were going up in the southeastern state, pointing to the delta variant.
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Maine is also in the midst of a surge of COVID-19 cases, with its seven-day rolling average of daily new cases rising from 423 on Dec. 1 to 1,048 on Dec. 15, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
So far, the variant has been detected in more than 40 states.
People stand in front of Radio City Music Hall after cancellations of The Rockettes performance due to COVID-19 cases on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, in New York. New York City had been mostly spared the worst of the big surge in COVID-19 cases that has taken place across the northeastern and midwestern U.S. since Thanksgiving, but the situation has been changing rapidly in recent days. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
In response, hospitals in Kansas and Missouri are delaying surgeries and turning away transfers, events are being canceled and schools are switching to remote formats.
U.S. public health officials called for the millions of Americans who remain unvaccinated to get shots – though the Biden administration resisted tightening restrictions.
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“For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death, for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said at a Friday briefing.
Although much remains unknown about the “variant of concern,” including its severity and ability to evade immune protection and vaccines, experts warn that it appears more transmissible than the delta variant.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.