Maryland is working to increase its capacity to track COVID-19 variants, Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced Wednesday, as a new variant is being found around the globe, including in the United States.
In an update at the State House, Hogan said the state “has one of the strongest variant surveillance systems in America” but will work to grow surveillance capacity in the face of the omicron variant.
In February, the state partnered with the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University to sequence “over 10% of all COVID‑19 cases,” Hogan said at the time.
Sequencing can help “track the mutations of the virus,” Hogan said.
Hogan said the Board of Public Works approved spending for additional testing supplies that could help identify and track the spread of omicron and other variants.
Last week, the World Health Organization announced they had designated omicron as a “variant of concern.”
According to the organization’s website, “it is not yet clear” whether omicron is more transmissible or causes more severe illness than other variants.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced what they called the “first confirmed case of omicron variant detected in the United States” in California.
The CDC said the affected person returned in November from South Africa, where the WHO said the variant was first reported.
“The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive,” the CDC said in a press release Wednesday.
Hogan noted omicron is not the first variant of the virus and likely not the last.
“I urge Marylanders not to panic,” he said Wednesday.
Hogan emphasized the availability of PCR tests and increased availability of rapid testing.
“Getting tested remains one of the most important things you can do,” Hogan said.
The governor especially encouraged getting tested “if you’re feeling sick and think you’re coming down with something,” as well as before and after travel.
Hogan also encouraged Marylanders to get vaccinated, and if they’re eligible, to get a booster shot.
In a press release Wednesday, Hogan announced Marylanders had received more than 1 million booster shots, bringing the total number of COVID-19 vaccines administered to well over 9 million.
There have been 10,987 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Maryland and over 580,000 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the Department of Health.
Nearly 700 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maryland, according to the most recent health department data.
That same data shows the percent of positive tests averaged over seven days has been increasing recently, to 5.13%.