01 December 2021 ⚡️ First US Omicron case in California; expect Biden to expand protective coronavirus measures
WHO moving forward with global pandemic agreement; globally, the US is the number one source of new coronavirus infections; research abstract is not reliable evidence of mRNA vaccine heart problem
Late Wednesday, California officials confirmed that a traveler who returned home from South Africa on November 22 has tested positive for the Omicron variant. “The person was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that did not require hospitalization.” The individual had not been boosted.
Expect President Biden to “extend requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through mid-March,” according to Reuters.
As part of an enhanced winter covid strategy Biden is expected to announceThursday, U.S. officials would require everyone entering the country to be tested one day before boarding flights, regardless of their vaccination status or country of departure. Administration officials are also considering a requirement that all travelers get retested within three to five days of arrival.
Note that this requirement would not affect most Americans, as only about a third of us have active passports. It would affect the (vocal) well-to-do.
Global response needed
The World Health Organization (WHO) held the second-ever special session of its governing body this week. After three days of talks, members of the World Health Assembly reached “consensus to create an international agreement to prevent and deal with future pandemics.”
The WHO will create an “intergovernmental negotiating body” to draft and negotiate the final agreement, which would then need member state adoption. Its first meeting should happen by March 1, 2022.
🦠 Context: Delta and Omicron
The United States is the number one source of new coronavirus infections in the world, and those infections are currently Delta.
Had we managed to vaccinate more than 80% of our total population, as several countries have done, and used third shots to prevent any significant waning, we would have Delta contained. Our problem now is not Omicron, but rather not using the tools we have, which are getting better and better over time.
Delta cases on the increase: On Tuesday, Arkansas reported its biggest one-day jump in cases since September, possibly from testing delayed until after Thanksgiving). Also on Tuesday, Vermont reported the most new Covid-19 related hospitalizations from since the start of the pandemic. And in Indiana, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb is planning to extend the statewide public health emergency for another month; hospitalizations have almost doubled in three weeks.
The Omicron variant contains 50 mutations compared with the original Wuhan coronavirus, Sars-CoV-2. Among thousands of mutations (variants), the World Health Organization Omicron has now categorized five (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Omicron) as variants of concern.
Dr. Noor Bari, Australia, pointed out that “we have seen no evidence” of SARS-CoV-2 evolving to become milder. “We are up to omicron in the alphabet soup already and it has not happened. Just believe the evidence of your own eyeballs. It’s either been similar, or worse.”
From the Financial Times and Twitter:
Trevor Bedford from Fred Hutch and the University of Washington has revised his estimate of the emergence of a common ancestor by a week (from October 7 to September 30) and median estimate of doubling time of 4.9 days.
In addition, it will take about two weeks to determine how Omicron responds to the vaccines. Bedford is “particularly interested in neutralization titers of individuals with two doses of vaccine vs individuals with three doses of vaccine.”
🤓 Recommended reading
If you’re interested in understanding how Covid-19 tests work and how they can help spot Omicron, this is a very approachable discussion.
A research abstract being widely discussed on social media is not reliable evidence of a link between mRNA vaccines and heart disease.
🌎 Countries where Omicron has been detected
Genomic testing has led to the Omicron variant’s being reported in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana (first sample, 11 November 2021), Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Czech Republic (CNN), the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Reunion, Saudi Arabia, Scotland (Guardian), Spain, South Africa (14 November 2021), South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, UAE, and the United States (1 December).