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Maryland Has Three Confirmed Cases Of The Omicron Variant Of COVID-19, Hogan Says

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday announced three Marylanders have the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

All three residents are in the Baltimore region. Two cases are in the same household, including a vaccinated person who recently traveled to South Africa and an unvaccinated person who was a close contact, Hogan's office said.

The other unrelated case involves a vaccinated person who has not recently traveled.

None of the three confirmed cases are hospitalized.

"Thanks to our aggressive surveillance system, we have quickly identified the first cases of the Omicron variant in Maryland," said Hogan. "We urge Marylanders to continue taking precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Getting a vaccine or a booster shot is the single most important thing that you can do to protect yourself and those around you. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we will continue to keep Marylanders updated as new information becomes available."

The Omicron strain—first discovered in South Africa—has more than 50 mutations and has alarmed health officials worldwide. New York, California, Hawaii, Minnesota and Colorado have also reported cases of the Omicron variant.

Speaking at a press briefing earlier this week, Hogan said he was concerned about the new variant, but did not expect there to be any further lockdowns.

"We're going to be encouraging people to go back to the things that kept us safe in the first place, which probably means some social distancing, masking, but most importantly, getting vaccinated," the governor said Monday.

The governor encouraged Marylanders to get the vaccine or booster shot. "Obviously, you're much better off being fully immunized. If you haven't gotten your booster, you're at greater risk."

Hogan said he received a briefing on Monday from the state's COVID-19 Response Team on the new variant.

It is not yet clear how effective the vaccines are against Omicron.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa told WJZ that has caused concern among health experts.

"We're not sure yet if it makes this particular version more transmissible," she said. "That's what scientists are really racing around the clock to find out."

She still encouraged people to get vaccinated and said now is a good time to give eligible children the shot. "It's just a reminder that we are not out of this," Dr. Dzirasa said.

Maryland reported 1,700 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, as the state surpassed 11,000 deaths from the virus.

In response to Friday's news, Anne Arundel County officials and public health authorities implored residents to get the vaccine and their booster shots if they haven't already done so.

County Executive Steuart Pittman said the county's government is prepared for the new variant, which has been described as potentially more easily transmissible than other variants. He said the county has an effective arsenal at its disposal, but he challenged every resident to do their part.

"My ask is that every one of us enlist," Pittman said. "Please vaccinate, boost, mask, and test, and plead with the people you love to do the same. That's how we will continue to save lives."

Fortunately for Maryland residents, there's already a blueprint in place to contain the virus's spread, said Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the county's health officer.

"It's the same as what we do now. Get vaccinated, wear your ask in public settings and get tested if you have symptoms," Dr. Kalyanaraman said.

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