What does this mean as we approach the holiday season?

On Nov. 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement revealing a new COVID-19 variant: Omicron. They have located the origin of the variant in South Africa. WHO officials say that the first known confirmed infection from Omicron was on Nov. 9 in South Africa. 

The CDC confirmed the first case of Omicron in San Francisco on Wednesday. The individual returned from South Africa on Nov. 22. In an online statement, the CDC states that the individuals is experiencing mild symptoms and are self-quarantining. Those who have been in close contact with them have also been notified and have not tested positive.


With this new variant, what is there to expect? 

The WHO tells us that it’s not yet clear if Omicron is more transmissible or severe compared to other variants. Because the variant has only been discovered recently, there is little research available. Scientists around the globe are working to study Omicron and its behaviors.

In early studies, Omicron has shown signs of “increased risk of infection” for those who have had COVID-19 previously. The variant can be detected using a PCR test, but no studies have shown it can be detected using a rapid antigen test. 


What are the protocols? 

Much like the Delta variant, countries are asked to keep tight surveillance on the number of cases they have. The WHO also asks individuals to continue to practice self-distancing, wear masks, avoid large crowds, keep hands clean and get vaccinated. 

As a precaution, the U.S. has closed off its borders to South Africa and seven other countries starting Nov. 29, 2021. Biden released a statement on Nov. 26, urging Americans to get vaccinated or get their booster shot. 

As of Wednesday, Omicron has been reported in 25 countries


How will this affect the holidays?

Currently, there are no changes to holiday travel restrictions and festivities. In a press briefing on Wednesday morning, President Joe Biden announced that shelves will be “well-stocked and they’re ready to meet the consumer demand for the holidays.” He remains cautious but has not made any final decisions. On Nov. 23, Biden also made 50 million barrels of oil available in an effort to lower gas prices. 

The Omicron variant is being monitored and studied worldwide. Countries are treating travel restrictions and lockdowns with caution. The CDC is asking all Americans to follow the WHO guidelines to help prevent the spread of the new variant. 

You can stay up-to-date on Omicron news by visiting the WHO website and the CDC website.