Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top public health adviser, said Sunday that early reports about omicron cases being relatively mild are “encouraging.”
“Though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it, thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union, as he expressed confidence that existing vaccines will confer “some degree, and maybe a considerable degree, of protection against the omicron variant, if, in fact, it starts to take hold in a dominant way in this country.”
Here’s what to know
- Tighter rules for entry into the United States for international travelers went into effect Monday. All incoming travelers will need to show proof of a negative test taken within a day of their departure, regardless of vaccination status.
- People will be required to wear masks on airplanes, trains, buses and other transportation in the United States through March 18, according to senior Biden administration officials.
- From the day he tested positive until his hospitalization, President Donald Trump came in contact with more than 500 people, either those in proximity to him or at crowded events, not including rallygoers, according to a Washington Post analysis of the president’s interactions during that period.
MORE ON THE OMICRON VARIANT
Omicron identified in linked Hong Kong quarantine hotel cases
The omicron variant has been identified in two coronavirus cases in a Hong Kong quarantine hotel where scientists believe the virus spread through the air in a hallway.
Two travelers, one who had arrived from South Africa and one from Canada, were staying across the hall from each other in separate rooms. Neither person left his room during the quarantine, and no items were shared between the travelers, according to the study by scientists at the University of Hong Kong published Friday in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The lack of contact between the travelers, confirmed by a review of surveillance camera footage, suggested that “airborne transmission” in the hallway was the most likely way the virus spread between the two people, the study said.
Snotty-nosed hippos test positive for coronavirus in Belgium, the first known cases in species
Two hippos in Belgium that vets noticed were “expelling snot” have been placed in quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus, the Antwerp zoo said, in what appears to be the first known case of covid-19 among the species.
It remains unclear how hippopotamuses Imani, 14, and Hermien, 41, contracted the virus, but the pair appear to be doing well and have no symptoms other than their runny, sticky noses.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time in this species,” the zoo’s vet, Francis Vercammen, said, according to Reuters. “Worldwide, this virus has been reported mainly in great apes and felines.”
How scary is omicron? Scientists are racing to find answers.
Microbiologist Pei-Yong Shi has studied all the variants: alpha, beta, gamma, delta, “delta-plus,” lambda and mu. So he was ready for omicron, the variant that incited global anxiety unlike any of those that came before.
Like most scientists, he was shocked by the sheer number of mutations. He also knew exactly what to do next.
Shi runs a high-containment laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston, and collaborates closely with Pfizer. Over Thanksgiving, his team began engineering a replica of the new variant to test against the antibodies generated by vaccines. But it doesn’t happen overnight: It will take about two weeks to build the omicron replica, another few days to confirm that it’s an accurate facsimile, and one more week to pit the virus against blood samples from vaccinated people.
U.S. cases top 100,000 daily as delta remains dominant
The United States is averaging more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases each day for the first time in two months, as the delta variant remains dominant amid fears of the new omicron variant.
On Sunday, the seven-day average was more than 118,000 new cases per day, according to Washington Post tracking. The last time it topped 100,000 was Oct. 6, when the country was averaging over 101,000 new cases daily.
Demand for coronavirus vaccines has also spiked in recent weeks, as more Americans are eligible for booster shots and concerns grow over the omicron variant.
Despite concerns about omicron, which scientists are still working to fully understand, the vast majority of new infections in the United States are of the delta variant, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, said Friday.
Gilead recalls vials of its remdesivir covid drug in U.S. over glass contamination
The American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences has issued a nationwide recall of two lots of its coronavirus treatment drug remdesivir because of the “presence of glass particulates,” the company said Friday.
Remdesivir, known also by its brand name Veklury, is normally used for adults and children over 12 requiring hospitalization for covid-19, and it is normally given by intravenous (IV) infusion once daily for up to 10 days.
“Gilead Sciences Inc. received a customer complaint, confirmed by the firm’s investigation, of the presence of glass particulates,” the company said in a statement.
Key coronavirus updates from around the world
Here’s what to know from news service reports about the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Where omicron has been detected in the United States
Cases of the omicron variant — which was first identified last month in southern Africa and has now spread to at least 17 U.S. states — are likely to rise further in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Sunday.
“We know we have several dozen cases [of omicron] and we’re following them closely, and we are every day hearing about more and more probable cases, so that number is likely to rise,” Walensky said in an interview with ABC News.
Almost all coronavirus cases in the United States are associated with the delta variant, Walensky said, and a lot of questions remain about omicron, including how it will react to coronavirus vaccines and existing treatments.
Still, Walensky said, the Food and Drug Administration is “already in conversations about streamlining the authorization … of an omicron-specific vaccine” with an eye to adjusting the mRNA code of existing vaccines to better protect against the variant if needed. Public health officials, meanwhile, are tracking existing cases of omicron in the following states:
Fauci on omicron: ‘It does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it’
The omicron variant doesn’t appear more likely to cause severe illness, said Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-disease expert, while he cautioned that more study is needed. He called initial data on the variant “encouraging.”
“Though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, “thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it.”
He expressed confidence that existing vaccines will confer “some degree, and maybe a considerable degree, of protection against the omicron variant, if in fact it starts to take hold in a dominant way in this country.”
Indications that the omicron variant may not often cause severe disease may quell concerns that it could overwhelm health-care systems this winter with a surge in hospitalizations and deaths.
Fauci had noted last week on Bloomberg TV that although omicron has led to a spike in cases across South Africa, the surge there has not yet caused a comparable increase in hospitalizations. He called the situation there “comforting but not definitive.”
A preliminary study from a Massachusetts-based firm found that the omicron variant probably shares genetic code with the common cold, which one of the study’s authors said suggests that the variant could be more contagious but cause less severe disease. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed, and Venky Soundararajan, a biological engineer and co-author, cautioned that more analysis of the variant was needed before determinations of its traits could be made.
Infectious-disease experts have said that one way out of the pandemic is if the virus mutates into one that is more transmissible but causes less severe illness, in essence becoming an endemic virus that spreads but does not cause widespread hospitalizations or deaths.
Myanmar court sentences Aung San Suu Kyi to prison for charges including breaking covid rules
A Myanmar court on Monday found ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of charges including inciting public unrest and sentenced her to four years in prison, according to her lawyer, the first in a series of verdicts that could keep the 76-year-old Nobel laureate detained for the rest of her life.
The closed-door trial in Naypyidaw, the capital, highlights the punitive treatment that the ruling junta is imposing on Suu Kyi, whom the military previously held under house arrest for almost two decades. After her release in 2010, she led her party to successive victories in quasi-democratic elections in 2015 and 2020, before the military seized power in February, again detaining Suu Kyi.
This time, the military seems intent on eliminating Suu Kyi as a political force. Since the coup, she has been held incommunicado in an undisclosed location. The military has steadily piled on a dozen criminal charges against her, ranging from campaigning during the pandemic to corruption and sedition; she cumulatively faces more than 100 years in jail.
Rulings on two of those charges — inciting public unrest against the military and breaching covid-19 rules — were handed down on Monday in a closed hearing. Her lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a gag order, said she received a sentence of two years for each charge.
Johnson & Johnson booster boosts immune response after Pfizer-BioNTech regimen, study says
Johnson & Johnson said on Sunday that an independent study found its coronavirus vaccine provides a “substantial” immune response when used as a booster shot for people who were fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine.
The increase in antibody and T-cell responses from a booster shot of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine six months after a full, two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech regimen showed the benefit of a mix-and-match approach to boosters, the company said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the use of Johnson & Johnson’s shot as a booster in October.
A study published in the journal the Lancet last week showed that the vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which use messenger RNA technology, provided the highest boost of antibodies after 28 days in people who were first vaccinated with shots by Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca, the latter of which is not approved in the United States. The study noted that the vaccines studied, including the Johnson & Johnson shot, “work in different ways,” and that more research was necessary to understand how boosters work as longer-term protection against covid-19.
Omicron possibly more infectious because it shares genetic code with common cold coronavirus, study says
The omicron variant is likely to have picked up genetic material from another virus that causes the common cold in humans, according to a preliminary study, prompting one of its authors to suggest omicron could have greater transmissibility but lower virulence than other variants of the coronavirus.
Researchers from Nference, a Cambridge, Mass.-based firm that analyzes biomedical information, sequenced omicron and found a snippet of genetic code that is also present in a virus that can bring about a cold. They say this particular mutation could have occurred in a host simultaneously infected by SARS-CoV-2, also known as the novel coronavirus, and the HCoV-229E coronavirus, which can cause the common cold. The shared genetic code with HCoV-229E has not been detected in other novel coronavirus variants, the scientists said.
Coronavirus vaccine demand grows in U.S. amid omicron variant concerns, booster eligibility expansion
Demand for coronavirus vaccines has spiked in the United States in recent weeks, as more Americans are eligible for booster shots and concerns grow over the omicron variant.
Health-care providers administered 2.18 million doses of coronavirus vaccines on Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the “highest single-day total since May,” the White House said. According to the latest CDC report, over the week ending on Thursday, the average number of daily administered vaccine doses reported to the agency was 22 percent higher than the previous week.
Since omicron was first confirmed in southern Africa on Nov. 25, and soon after listed as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, the Biden administration has been urging as many Americans as possible to get booster shots as the best means to protect themselves against it. All U.S. adults became eligible for boosters on Nov. 19.
Denmark sees ‘concerning’ jump in omicron cases — a warning sign for Europe
Danish health authorities on Sunday reported a “concerning” jump in cases of the omicron coronavirus variant that they said points to community spread in Denmark and probably elsewhere in Europe.
The number of confirmed cases in the country rose from 18 on Friday to 183 on Sunday, reflecting both the speed at which the variant has spread and the sensitivity of Denmark’s virus surveillance system.
The northern European country is a leader in the sequencing of variants, acting as an early-warning system for the continent. The rise in confirmed omicron cases there could be an indication that the variant has spread more widely throughout Europe than previously known.