DPHHS confirms Montana’s first Omicron variant case

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services officials have detected the Omicron variant through testing of positive COVID-19 samples from two Montana residents in their 30s with travel history to South Africa, according to a Dec. 20 release.

The variant was confirmed on Dec. 20 through genomic sequencing performed at the Montana State Public Health Laboratory and at Montana State University.

The individuals, who had mild symptoms that are improving, are self-isolating and have been since returning to Montana. They are residents of Gallatin County and were fully vaccinated, according to DPHHS.

Montana is the 46th state with a confirmed COVID-19 case caused by the Omicron variant, according to DPHHS.

DPHHS continues to conduct sequencing of COVID-19 samples for variant strains.

In addition to the state lab, three additional partner laboratories (UM, MSU and FYR Diagnostics) in Montana are conducting sequencing testing of positive COVID-19 specimens to support surveillance efforts of COVID-19 variants, according to DPHHS.

“While Omicron is classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a variant of concern, scientists are still working to determine how it may compare with the predominant Delta variant in terms of transmissibility and disease severity. Scientists also are studying the degree to which existing vaccines and therapies protect against Omicron. The COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant,” according to DPHHS.

Delta remains the predominant strain in the U.S.

“The concern right now for public health officials is that other states in the U.S. are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, which are primarily the Delta variant,” Dr. Maggie Cook-Shimanek, acting State Medical Officer at DPHHS, said in a release. “Given this activity around the country, it’s important that we exercise caution and take proven steps to prevent disease and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 here in Montana.”

DPHHS is encouraging Montanans to take the following steps to protect themselves from becoming infected with COVID-19, including variants like Omicron:

  • Get vaccinated and if eligible get a booster. To find a vaccine near you, visit covidvaccine.mt.gov.
  • Eligible Montanans who haven’t gotten vaccinated and still have questions, should consult with their healthcare provider.
  • Take steps to help prevent the spread of the virus such as using face masks, physical distancing, practicing hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 when you feel sick or have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.
  • Stay home when you are sick.