MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP/WIAT) — Alabama has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, a development that was expected as the latest mutation spreads in the United States.

The Alabama Department of Public Health announced that the variant was discovered in a “resident of the West Central Public Health District.” The patient had developed symptoms in early December before getting tested.

The person did not report any travel history outside of the state to ADPH.

State Health Officer Scott Harris said officials had presumed the variant was already in Alabama since it had been confirmed in neighboring states. Harris said reports that omicron causes less severe illness are encouraging but cautioned that scientists are still learning about the new variant.

“We still have more to learn about Omicron, but the most important thing we can do right now is to use the tools we have available to make it as hard as possible for this virus to spread,” he said. “In addition to vaccination and boosters, we can slow the spread of this variant and all COVID-19 variants by using the tried-and-true prevention methods of wearing masks, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate.”

Dr. Michael Saag of UAB says he expects more spread of the variant in the coming days.

“Meaning if you have 4 infections in Alabama today, you’re going to have 8 in 2 days. And then 16. and then 32, and then you can just do the math,” Dr. Saag said.

He says while there have been studies to suggest Omicron isn’t as deadly, he says there are still plenty of unknowns about the variant.

“We’re flying without a net going into this. And it’s a question of how comfortable people are up on the trapeze without the net,” Dr. Saag said.

He says the best protection against any new variants is to be fully vaccinated. And if people haven’t gotten their boosters, they should do it as soon as possible. He says the best way to limit spread is to work together.

“We’re dealing with an emerging crisis. And we need to take it on together and support one another,” Dr. Saag said.

Alabama in recent days has seen a slight uptick in cases and hospitalizations. Harris urged people to get vaccinated and to get a booster if they are eligible.