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UNC Charlotte student tests positive for omicron variant

A student at UNC Charlotte tested positive for the omicron variant of COVID-19, Mecklenburg County health leaders said Friday.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A student at UNC Charlotte tested positive for the omicron variant of COVID-19, marking the first confirmed case of the variant in Mecklenburg County, health officials announced Friday.

Health Director Gibbie Harris said this is also the first confirmed case of the omicron variant in North Carolina. During a news conference Friday, Harris said she's not surprised the variant is here, given the large population and the amount of travel during the holiday season. 

Rick Tankersley, UNC Charlotte's vice chancellor for research and economic development, said the student, who lives on campus, traveled out of state for Thanksgiving break before returning to North Carolina. The student has since recovered from the infection.

The student who tested positive was fully vaccinated but did not have a severe case and did not need to be hospitalized.

"These vaccines aren’t going to prevent infection -- we continue to see breakthrough cases and we know we will continue to see more," Harris said when asked if this shows the vaccines are working. "It has decreased the number of people that we’re seeing requiring hospitalization."

Mecklenburg County Public Health said the case was identified through UNC Charlotte's sequencing program. 

"Testing was done when they returned to campus after Thanksgiving," Tankersley said. "Based upon those results, all positive results are handed off to our sequencing team, which combines those positive tests with others we're collecting through a partnership with the county and StarMed to detect the presence of other variants in the community."

Tankersley said all of the student's close contacts were tested and those results came back negative. 

"There is no indication of any transmission on campus or in the community," Tankersley said. 

UNC Charlotte is ramping up its genomic sequencing capabilities. Genomic sequencing allows them to translate the virus' DNA into a language they can interpret to identify which variants are spreading. 

Dr. Katie Passaretti, The VP Enterprise Chief Epidemiologist for Atrium Health, said she is fully expecting to see an increase in cases now that omicron is here. She said that will also put some strain on the hospitals but is hopeful enough people are vaccinated, or will now choose to be, to soften some of the blow.

"It's not a cause for panic, it’s something that we are lucky that we’ve had some lead time to be able to prepare for, educate on, and make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect the community," Passaretti said.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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