Coronavirus - web only

LAWRENCE — The first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has been identified in Van Buren County.

Officials from the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department reported Monday, Jan. 3, a resident in Van Buren County has tested positive for the omicron variant. The news come on the heels of Allegan County Health Department reporting its first omicron case on Dec. 28.

Although both Van Buren and Allegan counties are located in a relatively rural area of the state, the detection of the variant doesn’t surprise health officials.

“It was only a matter of time until the omicron variant made its way to our district, but the latest identification further emphasizes the importance of testing, especially after the holidays,” said Danielle Persky, health officer for the Van Buren/Cass Health District.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 began spreading in the United States at the beginning of December. Health officials said they worry about the latest variant, first detected in South Africa, because of its high rate of transmissibility.

“According to the CDC, the omicron variant will likely spread more easily,” said Angelique Joynes, health officer for the Allegan County Health Department. “How easily omicron spreads, compared to the delta variant, remains unknown. The CDC expects that anyone with the omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms. Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the omicron variant. Breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, however, are likely to occur.”

Because the omicron infection can spread to people whether they have been vaccinated or not, health officials in both Van Buren and Allegan counties are urging people to get vaccinated to reduce the effects of COVID if it is contracted, wear masks in public, get tested to limit the spread of the disease and to self quarantine if infected.

“Testing helps identify infections and isolate those with COVID-19 to reduce risk of transmission,” Joynes said.

New testing sites

With the rapid spread of the omicron variant, new testing sites are available to residents in Van Buren and Allegan counties.

A free, drive-thru rapid antigen COVID-19 testing site is open to Van Buren County residents, regardless of age or symptoms, at Bangor High School Football Stadium team room, 801 W. Arlington St., Bangor, on Tuesdays from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. and Thursdays from 3-7 p.m.