What We Know About The Spread Of The COVID-19 Omicron Variant In The US

With the first case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant having only just recently been detected in California (via CNN), health experts say they now anticipate an "inevitable" spread of the new variant across the U.S. (via The New York Times).

As of December 3, Reuters reports that between Minnesota, Colorado, Hawaii, California, and New York, the total number of Omicron cases verified thus far in the U.S. totals to 10 across the five states. Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City Health Commissioner, explained to CNBC how the risk of contracting the virus is not exclusive to overseas travel, saying, "This is not just people who are traveling to Southern Africa or to other parts of the world where omicron has already been identified."

While there is still much to be learned about the specific nature of the Omicron variant, health officials have reason to believe there may be an increased risk for transmission amongst the public. In a statement to the media, Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor, said, "The molecular profile of the kinds of mutations that you see [in omicron] would suggest that it might be more transmissible and that it might elude some of the protection of vaccines" (via CNBC).

Government officials are responding to the Omicron variant

In light of the expected winter surge of COVID-19 cases during the holiday season, government officials are implementing additional travel precautions including mandatory 24-hour testing for international travelers returning to the U.S. (via CNBC). In addition, mask requirements for public transportation have been extended through mid-March 2022.

However, the current administration does not anticipate the need to return to strict quarantining measures. In a public statement, President Joe Biden reassured the public that their current emergency response plan to the variant does not include shutdowns or an increase in vaccine mandates. This plan has been echoed by state officials where cases of the Omicron variant have already been detected. New York Governor Kathy Hochul eased resident concerns in a public statement, saying, "It is still a public health crisis, but does not have to be a crisis that leads to shutdown" (via CNBC).

Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz reiterated the importance of protection during this time while much is still being learned about the Omicron variant. "This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise," he said in a statement (via The New York Times). "We know that this virus is highly infectious and moves quickly throughout the world. Minnesotans know what to do to keep each other safe now — get the vaccine, get tested, wear a mask indoors and get a booster."