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The U.S. is better prepared to fight omicron variant, CDC director says

Pedestrians wearing face masks against the coronavirus walk along Regent Street in London on Nov. 30. (Alastair Grant/AP)
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In the face of mounting concerns and lingering questions over the effects of the new omicron variant, health officials reassured the public Tuesday, arguing that the United States is overall better prepared to fight and contain the mutation than it was with previous variants.

“To be crystal clear — we have far more tools to fight the variant than we had at this time last year,” Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a White House coronavirus briefing.

Walensky added that as part of the ramped-up efforts to ward off new variants, the U.S. has significantly increased genomic sequencing from 8,000 samples a week earlier this year to 80,000 samples a week. It has also expanded its surveillance to the John F. Kennedy, San Francisco, Newark and Atlanta airports, four of the busiest in the country, for increased testing for specific international arrivals.

The agency will also evaluate additional travel measures, including pre-departure testing closer to the flight and post-arrival testing.

Here’s what to know

  • Although the omicron variant’s mutations have concerned scientists, much remains unknown about its tangible impact. “It’s a complete black box,” one virologist told The Washington Post.
  • The European Union’s public health body reported 42 omicron variant coronavirus cases in 10 countries across the region Tuesday. Andrea Ammon, who chairs the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said during an online conference that the confirmed cases were mild or without symptoms, Reuters reported.
  • President Biden called the omicron coronavirus variant a “cause for concern” but “not a cause for panic.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention significantly expanded its recommendations for booster shots, saying that all adults 18 and older should get them.