Since first being detected in California on Dec 1, the Omicron COVID-19 variant has now been confirmed in 17 states, with dozens of more probable cases likely to be confirmed in the coming days.
Though the Delta (B1617.2) variant is still the dominant strain in the United States, Omicron (B.1.1.529) could overtake it in the future if it proves more transmissible.
So far, US experts are displaying cautious optimism that Omicron may cause more mild illness than Delta or the original strain.
"Though it's too early to really make any definitive statements about it, thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it," said Antony Fauci, MD, the White House's top medical advisor, yesterday on CNN.
The Upper Midwest remains a hot spot, with 747 Iowans hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest number seen in the state this year, according to Iowa Public Radio.
New travel restrictions begin today
Today marks the first day all inbound international travelers will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 1 day of departure for the United States, regardless of nationality. The plan was announced last week by President Joe Biden as part of his winter strategy to prevent new COVID-19 surges this winter without lockdowns.
Today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced sweeping new vaccine requirements for private employers. Some 184,000 businesses are included in the mandate, which require employees who work outside the home to have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Dec 27.
The mayor also took to Twitter to announce that children ages 5 and up who participate in school sports, band, dance, and other extracurricular activities will also be required to show proof of one vaccine dose by Dec 14. He also said he will release more details about the private business requirements next week, including details about enforcement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker shows that 60.0% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 71.1% have received at least one dose, and 23.6% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose.
Other US developments
- The Biden administration is preparing to fast-track authorization of revamped COVID-19 vaccines to combat Omicron, according to the Wall Street Journal.
- A Norwegian Cruise Line ship with at least 17 passengers and crew members infected with COVID-19, one possibly with the Omicron variant, docked yesterday in New Orleans, CBS News reported today. All passengers are being tested prior to disembarkation.
- Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump in the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those in areas that voted for Biden, according to an NPR analysis.