Johnson County reports first confirmed case of COVID-19 Omicron variant

Johnson County health officials announced Wednesday they had identified the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the county, a man younger than 30. The county health department said it was working to identify the man's close contacts. Health officials say the best way to prevent severe illness from the disease is vaccination. File photo.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday afternoon reported the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in a county resident.

JCDHE said in a brief statement that officials were “working to investigate the case,” which occurred in a man younger than 30.

It was not immediately clear if the man had been vaccinated or how severe, if any, the symptoms he was exhibiting.

The statement said health officials were also working to “identify and communicate with those who may have come in contact with the confirmed case.”

“The best way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated,” Sanmi Areola, the county health director, Ph.D., is quoted in the statement.

“Get your first, second or booster dose as soon, when eligible, as you can to protect yourself and your loved ones,” he said.

The development is not necessarily a surprise. Local health officials have been warning for weeks that the highly contagious Omicron variant was likely already circulating in the Kansas City region.

On Monday, two Wyandotte County residents tested positive for the Omicron variant, the first confirmed cases in the Kansas City metro.

Researchers this week also announced viral strands taken from wastewater samples in Jackson County, Mo., had “mutations associated with Omicron.”

The CDC says the Omicron variant is now the dominant strain in the U.S., accounting for nearly 75% of new sequenced cases.

There is also emerging data to suggest Omicron, though more contagious than previous mutations of the virus, may cause less severe reactions and lead to fewer hospitalizations.  Though health officials have qualified that by saying since Omicron is so contagious, hospitals could still be overwhelmed with new COVID-19 cases, especially among the unvaccinated.

The news of Omicron’s spread comes as cases in Johnson County are cresting towards a new peak.

Johnson County is currently in an area of “high” community risk, with 365 new cases per 100,000 residents recorded on Tuesday, Dec. 21, and a positivity rate of 11.3%, figures last recorded in January when mass vaccination efforts were just getting underway.

On Tuesday, the University of Kansas Health System reported 84 patients with COVID-19, including 61 active infections.

Of those cases, the hospital said, 19 were in the ICU and 13 were on ventilators. Only 2 of the 84 patients were fully vaccinated, the hospital said.