Politicians and public health leaders repeated similar messages again and again as the weekend began: The omicron variant has arrived in yet another state, but everything we know about preventing COVID remains the same.

New Jersey Governor. Phil Murphy urged residents to wear masks, get vaccinated and get a booster shot to reduce the spread of the virus.

“Personal prevention” remains the best way to fight COVID, Missouri’s director of the Department of Health and Senior Services said in statement about an omicron case.

The variant has also arrived in Pennsylvania, but “There is no need to panic. … We also know the path to controlling the virus and limiting variants: get vaccinated, get boosted, and take your children ages 5 and older to get vaccinated,” a state Department of Health spokesman said.

Researchers have been scrambling for information on the highly-mutated variant which has caused a spike in South Africa’s cases and spread rapidly to other countries.

There are still questions about the transmissibility of the variant and the ease with which it could sneak through the immune defences of previously infected people who have been vaccinated. Unfortunately, we don’t know the risk of an omicron-related infection.

But for now, health experts agree there’s no reason to back off on measures proven to combat COVID-19, especially as delta continues to infect thousands of Americans a day. The masks can be used regardless of which variant is being infected. Vaccines will still provide an immune advantage to combat the coronavirus.

On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci urged Americans especially to receive their COVID-19 booster shots. He stated that the booster increases the “number of neutralizing antibodies [against all variants]”. 

What symptoms are associated with omicron variant? The latest strain of coronavirus

Understanding omicron:The latest variant of coronavirus, which is now found in the US. It’s mutating rapidly and spreading.

In the news also:

►Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said news of Antonio Brown and Mike Edwards’ suspensions over fake vaccination cards upset him because it undermines the “amazing job” his football club has done at handling COVID-19.

►Hiring slowed sharply in November as COVID-19 related hurdles clouded the outlook for the labor market in the months ahead.

►The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury are set to issue guidance by mid January that would allow over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic tests to be reimbursed by group health plans or health insurance providers.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded about 49 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 787,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 265 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. More than 198 million Americans — roughly 59.7% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. 

📘 What we’re reading: Researchers are still piecing together data, early anecdotal evidence and existing COVID-19 knowledge to better understand the new, mutated omicron variant of the coronavirus. Experts now have a better understanding of the variant’s danger, just two weeks after it was discovered.

For the most recent news, keep checking this page. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Michigan hospitals close to collapse amid Delta surge

Michigan hospitals are near the breaking point with patients battling COVID-19 and other illnesses during the state’s fourth coronavirus surge, fueled by the delta variant.

Some health systems say they have surpassed pandemic peaks from before COVID-19 vaccines were available.

“We’re now well beyond anything we’ve seen before here in west Michigan with a number of hospitalized patients, at least at Spectrum Health,” said Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan. “I wish we could say that we are on the road down.”

Instead, he stated that trend suggests things can get worse before they get better.

With 23% to 25% of coronavirus tests returning positive results at Spectrum, Elmouchi said, “this is really driving through infections, future hospitalizations, and, unfortunately, future deaths.”

Leaders from three western Michigan hospital systems and two in metro Detroit said Friday that the majority of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, as are the sickest, who need intensive care and ventilators.

Detroit Free Press: Christina Hall, Kristen Jordan Shamus and Kristen Jordan Shamus

South Africa sees rise in infections

The number of new cases of COVID-19 in South Africa has increased from 200 per day in mid November to 16,000 Friday. Omicron was detected over a week ago in the country’s most populous province, Gauteng, and has since spread to all eight other provinces, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said.

Despite the fast increase in infections, they are still well below the 2500 new cases per day that South Africa experienced in its previous surge in June and July.

South Africa’s hospitals are so far coping with the surge, even those in Gauteng province, which accounts for more than 70% of all new infections, Phaahla said.

— The Associated Press

US COVID-19 mapMonitoring cases and deaths

International air travel will be subject to new COVID test rules starting Monday

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shortening the testing window all international air travelers have to take a pre-departure coronavirus test from three days to one. Unvaccinated travellers were required to undergo a pre-departure coronavirus test within one day. 

The reduced timeframe aims to “provide less opportunity to develop infection with the omicron variant prior to arrival in the United States,” according to updated CDC order. 

U.S. airlines have been asked to collect contact-tracing information for inbound international travelers and send it to the CDC “upon request” since Nov. 8, when the country adopted a new set of international travel restrictions. 

The information collected includes names, addresses, phone numbers, emails and dates of birth.  

Find out more information about the international travellers you should be aware of.

— Bailey Schulz

Contributing to The Associated Press

Source: USAToday.com

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