As the United States begins to identify the emergence of the newly discovered Omicron variant of COVID-19, a new breakthrough case of the strain in Minnesota could be a point of concern for the return of large scale conventions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced to reporters today that a new case of Omicron has been discovered in Minnesota. It’s one of the first reported cases of the variant after a case in a Californian resident was revealed, marking the initial sign that the new, purportedly more transmissible strain of COVID-19 had already begun making its way into the country. However, what has become a point of both light mockery and wider concern is the confirmation that the Minnesota resident, a fully vaccinated adult male, recently travelled to New York state for Anime NYC, and could’ve contracted the virus while attending.
WH Press Sec. Jen Psaki briefs reporters on Minnesota Omicron variant case, saying vaccinated adult male attended anime convention at NYC's Javits Center from November 19th-21st. pic.twitter.com/6s3JODyyf6
— The Recount (@therecount) December 2, 2021
Anime NYC took place from November 19-21, and official covid guidelines shared for the event stated that attendees needed to have had at least one dose of a covid vaccine authorised by the FDA or WHO, and all attendees, guests, and exhibitors over the age of two, as well as all staff and crew, had to wear masks at all times except “when eating or drinking [or] by panelists while socially distanced on stage.” According to the CDC and Minnesota public health officials, the man began showing symptoms of the virus on November 22, before testing positive for Omicron on November 24. As of now, the person’s symptoms, which were mild, have resolved. But while direct contact tracing is underway through the CDC and public health officials, New York City released a separate statement from Mayor Bill de Blasio in the wake of the news, encouraging attendees of Anime NYC to seek immediate testing for the virus and to practice further spread prevention methods such as social distancing.
If you attended the Anime NYC 2021 Convention at the Javits Center from November 18-22, get tested for #COVID19 as soon as possible.
— City of New York (@nycgov) December 2, 2021
“We are aware of a case of the Omicron variant identified in Minnesota that is associated with travel to a conference in New York City, and we should assume this is community spread of the variant in our city,” de Blasio’s statement reads in part. “We are working closely with the State and the CDC, as well as the Javits Centre’s event organisers, and our Test and Trace Corps will be contacting conference attendees.”
It may be easy to joke about con crud and government officials having to talk about anime around this particular case (it’s, at least, somewhat lighter than the last time U.S. officials had to talk about anime publicly). But the arrival of the Omicron variant, depending on how research into the mutation ultimately tells us just what makes it different from prior strains of COVID-19, could be a cause for concern for the convention industry. Con organisers big and small have been hit hard by the pandemic and events like NYCC and the recent “Special Edition” of San Diego Comic-Con, had only just really beginning to ramp back up again with vaccinations rates leading to increased confidence in large scale events.
There’s much scientists still don’t know exactly about Omicron, although early reports seem to suggest optimism that current prevention methods — masks, vaccination, and booster shots — will work against the new variant. But if its transmission rates outpace previous concerning mutations like delta, the convention circuit is going to have to get serious about monitoring just who is attending events in the near future, and how guests interact with each other safely.