Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that a new strain of coronavirus, known as B.1.1.529 or the Omicron variant, has emerged from South Africa. Almost one week after this announcement, this new “variant of concern” has been detected in the U.S.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) publicized, “the California and San Francisco Departments of Public Health have confirmed that a recent case of COVID-19 among an individual in California was caused by the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529). The individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22, 2021. The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive. All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative.”
The CDC also noted that “genomic sequencing was conducted at the University of California, San Francisco and the sequence was confirmed at CDC as being consistent with the Omicron variant. This will be the first confirmed case of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant detected in the United States.”
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden expressed, “We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is of great concern; it seems to spread rapidly.” That concern is seconded by many, including Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. On CNN’s “State of the Union”, she stated, “I do think it’s more contagious, when you look at how rapidly it spread through multiple districts in South Africa.
As a precaution, President Biden issued a travel ban for the Republic of South Africa along with six nations bordering the countries, including Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. The POTUS says, “I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious – make sure there is no travel to and from South Africa and [seven] other countries in that region – except for American citizens who are able to come back.”
The South African government and WHO has expressed its concern over travel bans (i.e. Israel and Morocco), stating that the bans are a punishment for their good faith actions in alerting the proper channels about this new variant. “The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to and also to recover from the pandemic,” voiced South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa in his speech on November 28. Only time will tell if these actions will affect other countries’ forthrightness in coming forward in the future if they fear repercussions.
In Mississippi, COVID hospitalizations are on an upward trend, warns the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH). That number fluctuated throughout the month of November with the lowest designation at 142 on November 13. From Thanksgiving day onward, the trend has slowly crept upward with the latest statistics showing 201 hospitalizations.
CDC recommends people follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, washing your hands frequently, and physically distancing from others. CDC also recommends that everyone 5 years and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky states that the agency is strengthening its recommendation on booster doses for individuals who are 18 years and older. Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after their initial J&J vaccine.