The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is expanding surveillance to four of the busiest international airports in the country for the Omicron variant of coronavirus in travelers.
This surveillance program with XpresCheck is being expanded to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty, and San Francisco international airports.
“It allows for increased COVID testing for specific international arrivals, increasing our capacity to identify those with COVID-19 on arrival to the United States and enhancing our surveillance for the Omicron variant,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House news conference explaining the measures that the Biden administartion is taking to address the new threat of the Omicron variant.
She said the government is also actively working with the airlines to collect passenger information that can be used by CDC and local public health jurisdictions to enhance contact tracing and post-arrival follow-up if a new case of the new variant is identified in a traveler.
CDC is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines.
The U.S. Government imposed new restrictions on travel from 8 southern African countries after Omicron was first reported in Botswana on November 11, and in South Africa three days later. A total of 226 confirmed cases of Omicron infection, the fifth of the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, have been reported in 20 countries till Tuesday.
Currently, there is no evidence of Omicron in the United States. The Delta variant remains the predominant circulating strain, representing 99.9 percent of all sequences sampled.
CDC has received specimens from all 50 states and Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. It is sequencing genomic samples from these jurisdictions and from geographically diverse areas around the country, collaborating with state labs, academia, and industry partners.
Frequent communication and information sharing between U.S. scientists and public health officials and the South African government is going on.
Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci said that while it will take a few weeks to have definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the new variant, existing vaccines are likely to continue to provide a degree of protection against severe illness.
More than 40 percent of Americans are still not fully vaccinated.
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said the administration is working with Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J to develop contingency plans for modifications to vaccines or boosters, if they are needed.
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