U.S. and New York City health officials said Thursday they worked closely with Minnesota authorities, which reported the country’s second confirmed case of the omicron coronavirus variant.
The first American case was reported in California on Wednesday. The variant was first discovered in South Africa last week and has now been found in about two dozen countries.
The Minnesota Department of Health said a citizen who recently traveled to New York City for a conference was found to be infected with the variant. The man experienced mild symptoms on November 22, was tested on November 24 and no longer has symptoms.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency has monitored and prepared omicron and works with public health officials in Minnesota.
“The CDC has expanded its capacity for genomic sequencing over the last nine months, and we have more tools to combat the variant than we had at this point last year,” she said in a statement.
Vaccines, boosters, masking in indoor public environments, frequent hand washing and physical distancing “work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, regardless of the genetic sequence,” she said.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s public health officials are aware of the Minnesota case and its connection to travel to New York. The conference, which the traveler attended, required masks and complied with the city’s vaccination requirements, he said.
“We should assume that there is community dispersal of the variety in our city,” de Blasio said.
Also in the news:
►A new study involving NBA players, their families and staff showed that people with COVID-19 breakthrough cases stopped producing the virus two days earlier than the unvaccinated.
“Vaccines have suddenly become scarce in some parts of Oregon after months of vaccine surpluses across the state and across the country, officials said.
📈Today’s numbers: The United States has recorded more than 48.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 782,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Global totals: More than 263.6 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. More than 197 million Americans – about 59.4% of the population – are fully vaccinated, According to the CDC.
📘 What we read: The first case of the coronavirus omicron variant in the US was confirmed on Wednesday. How did the researchers find it?
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GlaxoSmithKline says its COVID-19 antibody drug appears to be effective against the omicron variant based on initial laboratory tests. The UK drug maker said it hopes to complete testing by the end of the year to confirm whether the drug is effective against all the different mutations seen with the variant. The announcement Thursday is one of the first indications that at least some of the current COVID-19 treatments will retain their potency against the new strain.
On Tuesday, drug maker Regeneron warned that its antibody cocktail appeared to be losing effectiveness against omicron.
Germans who have not been vaccinated should be excluded from unnecessary shops and cultural and recreational sites, and the German parliament is also considering a general vaccine mandate. Officials have also agreed to demand masks in German schools, introduce new limits for private meetings, slash outdoor sports participation to a maximum of 15,000 people and aims for 30 million vaccinations before the end of the year.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that the measures were necessary because of concerns that hospitals in Germany could be overloaded with COVID-19 patients. Infections are more likely to be disabling in those who have not been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel said.
Patients who have recovered from severe COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to die within the year of their illness than people who have not contracted the virus, according to a study by University of Florida researchers published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine. The researchers found that among patients who recovered from severe COVID-19 and later died, deaths attributed to cardiovascular, respiratory and coagulation problems – common complications of COVID-19 infection – accounted for only 20% of deaths .
“These findings reinforce that the internal trauma of being sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19 has a major impact on people’s health,” said Arch G. Mainous III, Ph.D., the study’s lead investigator. “This is a huge complication of COVID-19 that has not been shown before.”
Stricter travel rules, free home tests and boostershots are key elements in President Joe Biden’s latest strategy to combat the rapidly evolving coronavirus. Biden is scheduled to promote his plan during a visit to the National Institutes of Health on Thursday as people begin to starve for the winter and gather for the holidays. Some highlights of the plan:
- Requiring travelers entering the country by air to test negative for COVID within one day of departure, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, instead of within three days.
- The requirement for masks to be worn on planes, trains and public transport is extended until 18 March.
- Requires private health insurance companies to cover 100% of the cost of home coronavirus testing.
- Launching a public awareness campaign to encourage 100 million adults to get boosters, with a particular focus on seniors.
– Maureen Groppe
The global number of cases again exceeds 4 million a week, after spending most of October around 3 million a week. One of the biggest increases is in South Africa, where cases are being reported about 11 times faster than they were a month earlier. The country was the first to identify the omicron variant, which some experts worry may spread rapidly.
Parts of Europe have also seen a strong resurgence of the virus from previously relatively low rates. Spain reported about 8,900 cases in the week ending November 1, but nearly 63,000 cases in the week ending December 1. France went from about 42,000 a week to 243,000. Germany’s case numbers tripled to around 400,000 a week.
Limited access to testing in many developing countries means that global figures are likely to be significantly underestimated and may obscure regional trends.
– Mike Stucka
With virtually no legislative oversight and largely shielded from the public eye, Tennessee State officials agreed to pay a medical billing company $ 20 million last summer to implement the state’s contact tracing efforts. The price of that contract has now more than tripled to a total of $ 75 million, according to several changes that have been hashed out between the company and the state Department of Health.
Extension of contract without tender with Hendersonville company Xtend Healthcare – first reported by The Tennessee Lookout – has raised eyebrows among legislators from both parties. Employees of the company have questioned how well Xtend Healthcare – a medical billing firm with no previous experience in epidemiology – has managed contact tracing in Tennessee. Several Xtend Healthcare staff told WPLN that they experienced significant backups of cases where some reached infected patients after being quarantined.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has defended the state’s emergency buying process, arguing that government officials needed to make decisions quickly to secure supplies such as personal protective equipment and other services during the pandemic.
– Yue Stella Yu, Nashville, Tennessean
Indiana reported 6,164 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest number of new cases added to the state’s dashboard in a single day since early January. Holiday weekends, like the long Thanksgiving weekend, can wreak havoc on COVID-19 numbers due to test delays. So the cases confirmed on Tuesday could in part be an artifact of tests being less available over the weekend.
Suggesting that this could be part of a new disturbing trend, Indiana reported more than 4,000 new cases on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the seven-day average for new cases reached 3,245, the highest number since September.
– Shari Rudavsky, Indianapolis star
Contributors: Mike Stucka, Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY; Imani Cruzen, St. Cloud Times; Associated Press
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