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CDC director says recommendations for protection the same, 'regardless of the variant': COVID updates

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 12/3/2021 Celina Tebor and Christine Fernando, USA TODAY
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At a Friday news conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci urged Americans to get their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, saying the booster dose increases "the number of neutralizing antibodies against all the variants." 

While there are many unanswered questions about omicron health officials will know more about the transmission and severity of the variant in the next few weeks, said Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser.

Meanwhile, "CDC is providing support to enhance and streamline genomic sequencing nationally, and is expanding surveillance of international travelers," said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. 

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But while the world is focused on omicron, Walensky said "we should remember that 99.9% of cases in the country right now are from delta." She added that measures used to counter the delta variant, including vaccinations, mask wearing, social distancing and increased testing, will also be effective in curbing the spread of the omicron variant.

Patients wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot at a mobile vaccination station near Central Park in New York. © John Minchillo, AP Images Patients wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot at a mobile vaccination station near Central Park in New York.

"Our recommendations for protecting against COVID remain the same regardless of the variant," she said.

World Health Organization officials echoed this sentiment at a Friday news conference from the Philippines.

"The positive news in all of this is that none of the information we have currently about omicron suggests we need to change the directions of our response," said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.

"But every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases,” Kasai added.

What are omicron variant symptoms? Everything to know about the latest coronavirus strain

Understanding omicron: How the latest coronavirus variant, now in the US, is mutating and spreading

Also in the news:

►As the emergence of omicron raises concerns over the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in February, Zhao Weidong, spokesperson for the organizing committee, told reporters at a Friday news conference that Olympic participants will live and compete in a bubble while only Chinese residents who have been both vaccinated and tested will be allowed at venues.

►Oklahoma's attorney general sued the Biden administration Thursday over a requirement that all National Guard members receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

►Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has been cleared from the NBA’s healthy and safety protocols and will be available to play in Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the league announced.

►Workers covered by existing COVID-19 vaccine mandates in New Mexico will be required to get booster shots as well, beginning in January. The state Department of Health amended its public health order requiring workers at schools, hospitals and congregate care facilities and the governor's office to be vaccinated, adding the additional dose to existing requirements.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 48 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 785,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 264 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. More than 197 million Americans — roughly 59.6% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: The threat of omicron is underscoring the importance of vaccination and boosters against COVID-19, especially for people of color who have disproportionately suffered during the pandemic.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Omicron coronavirus variant found in California, Nebraska, other US states

The first known case of the omicron variant was detected in the U.S. on Wednesday, in San Francisco, California. Since then, the heavily mutated variant has been identified in several other U.S. states.

By Thursday, another omicron case was confirmed in California in a Los Angeles County resident who likely contracted the virus during a trip to South Africa last month, according to the county's public health department. At least five people in the New York City metropolitan area were infected with the omicron variant, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a Thursday news conference.

A man from Minnesota who had attended an anime convention in Manhattan in late November was also infected with the variant, she added.

"Let me be clear: This is not cause for alarm. We knew this variant was coming and we have the tools to stop the spread,'' Hochul said on Twitter.

"Get your vaccine. Get your booster. Wear your mask.''

Officials reported another case in a Colorado woman who had recently traveled to southern Africa. The variant was also confirmed in an unvaccinated Hawaii resident with no recent travel history, state health officials said.

Friday, Nebraska health officials confirmed six people tested positive for the omicron variant. One of the individuals likely contracted the virus while traveling to Nigeria, and the other five were in the same household as the first case, officials said. Only one of them was vaccinated.

The variant was also reported in Pennsylvania and Missouri.

Global vaccine equity: Omicron isn't a surprise to advocates who have fought for global vaccine equity

South Africa sees 'steep rise in infections'

South Africa has seen a "steep rise in infections" in the past seven days, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at a Friday news conference, adding that the over 2,500 new cases last Thursday when the omicron variant was first detected has jumped to over 11,500 this Thursday. All districts are seeing increases in cases with rapid increases and hospitalizations in Gauteng, a province in northeastern South Africa.

"While we are still dealing with few days and limited data, indications are that this variant is indeed highly transmissible," Phaahla said.

While there have been infections of vaccinated people, Phaahla said most of these cases have only led to mild illness and the majority of hospitalizations have been among unvaccinated young people below age 40. The country is also seeing increased hospital admissions of children under age 4, highlighting the need to include pediatric beds and staff in preparations for surging cases.

The omicron variant has also been spreading to older age groups, said Dr. Michelle Groome from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. She added that early evidence indicates this variant is more transmissible than others and that there is a "degree of immune escape," meaning the variant's ability to resist an immune response from prior infections or from vaccines.

US COVID-19 map: Tracking cases and deaths

Congress avoids shutdown after vaccine mandate clash

Both chambers of Congress passed a bill Thursday to fund the government through Feb. 18, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown before a Friday deadline.

A group of Republican senators nearly forced a shutdown after they threatened to delay passage of the bill in the upper chamber. They wanted language preventing the use of federal money to carry out a Biden administration mandate on workplace vaccinations, but the amendment to do that failed 48-50.

Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall, who introduced the amendment along with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the president's order will displace a significant number of workers.

"This is about jobs in Kansas. It's about jobs in Texas, in Utah, across the nation," he told reporters on Capitol Hill before the vote. "An unconstitutional federal vaccine mandate's going to lead to an economic shutdown, jobs lost back home."

Biden announced last month a policy that large businesses — those with 100 or more employees — require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be regularly tested. Noncompliant businesses could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation. The requirement is currently on hold due to several lawsuits.

"I am glad that in the end cooler heads prevailed," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said of the vote to keep the government open. "The government will stay open."

NYC anime convention attendees urged to get tested for COVID

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul urged the 53,000 people who attended a November anime convention in New York City to get tested for COVID-19 immediately after an attendee from Minnesota tested positive for the omicron variant. She said health officials will be in contact with attendees.

"This is not cause for alarm," she said at a Thursday news conference. "It was foreseen ever since it was first reported out of South Africa, that we knew it would come to New York State at some point."

Anime NYC, which required vaccinations and masks for the conference, according to its website, confirmed on Twitter that one of its attendees tested positive and said organizers are working with health agencies to email and call attendees to notify them of the confirmed case.

"You are strongly advised to get tested," the organization said, adding that the attendee was vaccinated and developed mild symptoms.

Study: Patients have greater risk of death after recovery from severe COVID-19

Patients who have recovered from severe COVID-19 have more than three times the mortality risk within the year following their illness than people who have not contracted the virus, according to a recent study by University of Florida researchers.

An earlier study by UF researchers, published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, found patients who had a severe case of the disease were more than twice as likely to need rehospitalization for COVID-19 complications, which underscores the serious effects the virus can have on the body.

The risk for those younger than 65 who had severe cases is higher than for those older than 65. But patients who had mild or moderate COVID-19 were not found to be at increased risk of death compared to those who did not contract the disease.

“These findings reinforce that the internal trauma of being sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19 has a big consequence for people’s health. This is a huge complication of COVID-19 that has not been shown before,” said Arch G. Mainous III, the study’s lead investigator.

— Jill Pease, UF Health

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CDC director says recommendations for protection the same, 'regardless of the variant': COVID updates

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