As scientists identify cases of COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant in the United States, officials at all levels are working to prevent renewed surges of the virus as the holiday season moves along.
On Thursday alone, omicron variant cases of the virus were reported in several U.S. states, including New York, Minnesota, Colorado and Hawaii.
While none of the cases have been confirmed in the state of Illinois, doctors and officials in the state say it is only a matter of time before the new variant makes its way to the Land of Lincoln.
At the federal level, President Joe Biden unveiled a new winter plan to combat coronavirus, aiming to require health insurers to reimburse customers for the cost of at-home COVID tests and extending the mask mandate on public transportation through at least mid-March.
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Beginning next week, the Biden administration announced that all international travelers will be required to test negative for COVID-19 within 24 hours of their departure for the United States.
“We will fight with science…not chaos and confusion,” he said.
The administration also announced additional steps to encourage families to get COVID vaccines and boosters together, and to expand testing capabilities as cases increase around the country.
Dr. Alfredo Menalora, an infectious disease specialist at Chicago’s St. Anthony Hospital, applauded the moves.
“These are all very essential things, and are part of a robust intervention to mitigate the spread of the virus in general,” he said.
Menalora says that doctors in the U.S. still are working to learn more information against the new omicron variant of the virus, studying whether it is more contagious than its predecessors, whether it causes more severe illness, and whether current vaccines work against it.
“There’s mutations in the spike proteins, which is where our vaccines work,” he said.
Officials are continuing to urge residents to get vaccinated and to get boosters, with all residents 18 and older now eligible to receive booster shots six months after receiving their second dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The news comes as Illinois copes with an increase in COVID cases, reporting more than 11,000 new confirmed and probable cases in the last 24 hours along. The uptick in cases was the biggest single-day increase since Dec. 2020, and officials say positivity rates and hospitalizations are on the rise as the holiday season continues.