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COVID-19: Omicron Variant, Requirements


Last updated 12/9/2021 at 11am

Many are gearing up for the holiday season and preparing for a new year. Will it be the same, or will the same woes continue? As more information is unearthed and variants are making its way, many are hoping that 2022 will be the end of it all and it is back to normality.

As more and more continue their travels, especially during this holiday season, amid the pandemic and new variants, people must still wear masks during these times.

The Transportation Security Administration announced on Dec. 2 that masks would continue to be required on all modes of transportation through mid-March.

The requirement was put in place back in February.

On the TSA website, the agency said that masks will continue to be required at “airports, onboard commercial aircraft, over-the-road buses, and on a commuter bus and rail systems.”

The extension of the mask requirement comes as President Joe Biden’s administration released details on the efforts to combat the newest coronavirus variant, the omicron.

On top of the mask extension, the U.S. is implementing stricter testing requirements for international travelers, effective Dec. 6.

Those flying into the U.S. from abroad will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 tests that was taken within one day of departure before being allowed to board. This includes U.S. citizens, as well as those who are fully vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy specifies that travelers must get tested one day before the flight’s departure, but does not say it has to be exactly 24 hours before.

“The Order uses a one-day time frame instead of 24 hours to provide more flexibility to the air passenger and aircraft operator,” the CDC says. “By using a one-day window, test acceptability does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test sample was taken.”

The omicron variant, which was discovered by scientists in South Africa, has made its way to the United States. Health officials announced that a person in California had become the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of this variant.

The variant has since been identified in several states including Minnesota, New York and Colorado.

The person in California, an adult under age 50, developed symptoms a few days after arriving in the U.S. and got tested on Nov. 28, California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a briefing.

“The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive,” the CDC reported in a statement.

Close contacts of the California case have been undergoing COVID tests and so far, no one has tested positive. The individual from California was fully vaccinated with two doses of the Moderna vaccine, but had not been eligible to receive a booster shot.

Health officials state that the omicron variant has a high number of mutations that suggest it may spread quicker and more easily than the delta variant. Scientists, however, say it is still unclear whether omicron is more dangerous than other versions. It is also unknown how well the vaccines and treatments would work against the variant.

The variant has also been detected in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Israel and Hong Kong, among other countries.

Despite risks including potential birth defects if used during pregnancy, the Food and Drug Administration endorsed the Merck COVID pill, paving the way for U.S. authorization of first at-home drug for the virus.

The panel voted 13 – 10 that the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks.

The recommendation came hours after debates about the drug’s benefits and potential safety issues, but experts say that those who are pregnant should not use this. The group’s vote specifically backed the drug for adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who face the greatest risks, including those with conditions like obesity, asthma and old age.

The FDA isn’t bound by the panel’s recommendation and is expected to make its own decision before year’s end.

FDA authorization for the drug, molnupiravir, could be a major step in treating the virus. It would give doctors the first drug they could prescribe for patients to take on their own, easing the burden on hospitals and helping to curb deaths.

The pill is authorized for use in the U.K.

However, push back continues against the vaccine mandates. The President Biden vaccine rule for health workers has been blocked in 10 states by a federal judge. The preliminary injunction issued Monday applies to Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Those states all have either a Republican attorney general or governor. Similar lawsuits are pending in other states.

A federal judge in Missouri said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate for health care providers that participate in the two government programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.

The rule requires workers to receive their first dose by Dec. 6 and their second by Jan. 4.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who led the coalition of 10 states in the suit, issued a statement celebrating the injunction, calling the Biden administration’s actions “unprecedented federal overreach.”

This court order comes after the White House suffered a similar setback, where a court placed a hold on a rule requiring businesses with over 100 employees to ensure their workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get tested weekly for the virus.

In San Diego County, a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 37 former Rady’s Children Hospital employees who refused to get the vaccine based on religious beliefs. Those former employees, mostly pediatric nurses, were dismissed or placed on “permanent administrative leave without job protection” all had religious exemptions denied.

The complaint was filed in San Diego Superior Court on Nov. 24. According to the complaint, each of the plaintiffs requested a religious exemption, and each of them was denied. The suit accuses the hospital of making a blanket denial that “fails to address any determination on the sincerity of the religious beliefs, and fails to demonstrate any undue hardship giving cause for the refusal to accommodate.”

“The denial of any employee’s request for a religious accommodation based upon the views of other individuals who do not share the employee’s belief is unlawful,” states the lawsuit.

These are hard times and the battle continues. Normality will be found and it is hoped that the coronavirus will be a thing of the past.