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Omicron is Now in the U.S., With First Case Found in California

Accepted submission by upstart at 2021-12-02 03:24:33
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Omicron is now in the U.S., with first case found in California [washingtonpost.com]:

By Paulina Villegas [washingtonpost.com],Bryan Pietsch [washingtonpost.com],Adela Suliman [washingtonpost.com] andHannah Knowles [washingtonpost.com]Yesterday at |Updated today at 8:30 p.m. EST

This live coverage has ended. For the latest coronavirus news, click here [washingtonpost.com].

The first U.S. case of the omicron variant [washingtonpost.com] has been identified in California in a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. [washingtonpost.com]

The patient had mild symptoms that were improving and was in isolation, officials said.

Much remains unknown about the highly mutated variant, which scientists fear could be more transmissible and more resistant to vaccines. The new variant has been identified in more than 20 countries [washingtonpost.com] since it was first identified in southern Africa last week.

Here’s what to know

MORE ON THE OMICRON VARIANT

U.S. airports will aid effort to monitor omicron variant By Lori Aratani [washingtonpost.com]8:30 p.m.Link copied

Federal health officials are expanding a program that offers free coronavirus testing at key U.S. airports, part of strengthened efforts to monitor international arrivals amid growing concerns about the omicron variant.

Under the program, visitors from eight African nations, including those connecting through Europe, who arrive at New York’s John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, San Francisco International and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airports, will be given the option of taking a test when they arrive. Those who volunteer also will be given the option of an at-home test to take three to five days after arrival.

International arrivals already are required to show proof of a negative virus test before boarding U.S.-bound flights, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing this week that the screening program at four of the nation’s busiest airports will provide additional data that can aid in the agency’s monitoring efforts.

A Texas man hit the strip club and bought a Lamborghini with coronavirus aid. He got 9 years in prison. By Julian Mark [washingtonpost.com]8:04 p.m.Link copied

When Lee Price III received nearly $1 million in federal coronavirus [washingtonpost.com] relief in June 2020, he blew much of it in a matter of days.

The money never made it into the pockets of the employees Price was supposed to pay; those employees, after all, were fictional. Instead, Price spent the money on luxury goods, including a roughly $14,000 Rolex watch, a $2,000 trip to a Houston-area strip club and a roughly $233,000 2019 Lamborghini Urus, according to prosecutors.

All told, Price received more than $1.6 million after filing fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan applications with multiple banks around the country, using much of the money to buy high-priced items and to pay off outstanding debt, federal prosecutors said.

Facebook says it took down disinformation networks, including some tied to anti-vaccine groups By Elizabeth Dwoskin [washingtonpost.com]7:00 p.m.Link copied

Facebook said Wednesday that it took down disinformation networks that included accounts run by anti-vaccine groups that were using evolving tactics to attack doctors in Europe.

Facebook, which recently changed its corporate name to Meta, said a China-based operation was discovered after a mysterious account claiming to be a Swiss biologist posted that the United States was pressuring and intimidating World Health Organization scientists studying the origins of the coronavirus in an attempt to blame China for the pandemic. The false persona was named Wilson Edwards and made the posts on Twitter and Facebook in July.

Almost immediately after the fake biologist’s account, which was created only the day before, began posting its messages, Chinese state-controlled media organizations Global Times and People’s Daily began covering the fake scientist’s story. Facebook initially received reports about the fake account, and began to tie it and a network of hundreds of other fake personas amplifying it to actors in China, including a state-owned infrastructure company.

While Facebook fell short of saying that the operation — which it said was quickly rooted out — was tied directly to the Chinese government, experts say such unusual timing often suggests a coordinated effort.

In Italy and France, an anti-vaccination group known as V_V developed coordinated harassment campaigns against doctors and journalists on Facebook. In some examples, they would call doctors and journalists Nazis for promoting coronavirus vaccines and say the vaccines would lead to a “healthcare dictatorship.” The groups would coordinate in other channels, such as Telegram, to organize the harassment.

Facebook said such coordinated campaigns, known as brigading, are a new area that the company is starting to police. It said it had begun policing other types of harassment campaigns, including ones to report people’s posts as breaking the rules to get them taken down.

What to do if coronavirus variants leave you stranded overseas By Hannah Sampson [washingtonpost.com]6:37 p.m.Link copied

Since late last week, the emergence of the highly mutated omicron variant of the coronavirus [washingtonpost.com] has upended [washingtonpost.com] travel around the globe, stranding people in foreign countries as airlines canceled flights, governments imposed new travel bans and nations updated entry requirements.

Much about the new variant, which by Tuesday had been identified [washingtonpost.com] in nearly two dozen countries, is not known; the World Health Organization said the overall global risk is “very high.” It was first detected in southern Africa.

As scientists work to determine how transmissible omicron is and how effective vaccines are against it, countries are tightening their defenses. As of Sunday, the WHO had counted 56 countries that were implementing travel measures aimed at keeping omicron out.

CDC tells airlines to share contact information on passengers traveling from southern Africa By Hannah Knowles [washingtonpost.com]5:34 p.m.Link copied

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is requiring airlines to share contact information on travelers to the United States who have recently been in southern Africa as officials seek to slow the spread of the omicron variant.

Last month, the CDC ordered airlines and aircraft operators to collect contact details of all passengers entering the United States and asked that they retain the information for 30 days and share it with federal health authorities “upon request.” The policy was meant to help locate and follow up with people exposed to disease, the agency said.

Now the CDC says that, effective Tuesday, it should get the contact information of all passengers who have been in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in the two weeks before their flight to the United States.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus — which scientists fear [washingtonpost.com] could be more transmissible and more resistant to vaccines — spurred a new wave of travel restrictions over the past week, even as experts warned that the variant’s global spread was only a matter of time.

Health officials said Wednesday that the first U.S. case was identified in California, in a traveler who had spent time in South Africa.

Analysis: What’s amazing is that Trump didn’t contract the coronavirus even earlier By Philip Bump [washingtonpost.com]3:49 p.m.Link copied

By late September 2020, the coronavirus [washingtonpost.com] was no longer a mystery. We knew what it did, we knew how it spread, we knew how it could be detected, and we knew better ways to treat the disease it caused. Americans had stopped binge-buying Purell and moved on to comparing masks. Vaccines were still a few months out, as were at-home testing kits, but those who chose to protect themselves against the virus had a useful sense of how to do so.

That group did not include the sitting president.

On Wednesday came an amazing though eminently believable story from the Guardian: In his new book, then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reports that President Donald Trump had a positive coronavirus test Sept. 26 [theguardian.com] of last year, days earlier than his covid-19 infection was reported. This was the same day as the infamous White House event [washingtonpost.com] at which Trump announced the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to sit on the Supreme Court — an event after which a number of attendees tested positive for the virus. While much of the event was held outside, there was an unmasked portion inside the White House, where Trump and some of those who tested positive were in attendance.

Even at the time, that aspect of the event was baffling. An indoor event without masks during a pandemic centered around an airborne virus? Obviously we understood even by then that Trump saw mask-wearing as some sort of mark of weakness and that his reelection strategy hinged on pretending that the pandemic wasn’t happening. So, again, not surprising that coronavirus cases should emerge.

Covid-19 linked to heart inflammation in college athletes, study finds By Paulina Villegas [washingtonpost.com]3:15 p.m.Link copied

A small but significant percentage of college athletes who have been diagnosed with covid-19 develop myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can only be detected by a cardiac MRI, according to a study [eurekalert.org] presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Officials from the highly competitive Big Ten athletic conference asked athletes who had covid-19 to get tests, including cardiac MRI, echocardiogram and blood tests, before returning to play to determine how frequently the students presented with myocarditis, which can affect the heart’s ability to pump and often causes lasting scarring to the heart muscle.

Jean Jeudy, a professor and radiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who serves as the cardiac MRI core leader for the Big Ten Cardiac Registry, reviewed the results of 1,597 cardiac MRI exams collected from the 13 participating schools.

The data showed 37 of the athletes, or 2.3 percent, were diagnosed with covid-related myocarditis, a percentage that falls in line with the incidence of myocarditis in the general population.

However, an “alarmingly high proportion” of the myocarditis cases were found in athletes that showed no clinical symptoms. Twenty of the patients with covid-19 myocarditis (54 percent) had neither cardiac symptoms nor cardiac testing abnormalities. Only cardiac MRI identified the problem, the study found.

Jeudy said the main reason for concern is the limited understanding that exists of the long-term effects of covid-19 myocarditis, with some athletes presenting issues that they recovered from within a month, and others presenting continued abnormalities as a result of the initial scarring.

Another potential long-term effect is an increased risk of arrhythmia.

“These are young patients, and the effects of myocardial inflammation can potentially impact their lives more significantly than in older patients,” Jeudy said. “That’s why we really want to push forward and continue to collect this data.”

Key updateFauci says Biden administration is preparing for possible ‘variant-specific boost’ By Felicia Sonmez [washingtonpost.com]2:37 p.m.Link copied

Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, described the first case of the new omicron variant in the United States on Wednesday, telling reporters that the individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive Nov. 29.

“The individual is self-quarantining, and all close contacts have been contacted, and all close contacts thus far have tested negative,” Fauci said in the White House briefing room. He added that the person was fully vaccinated but had not received a booster shot, and that they “experienced mild symptoms, which are improving at this point.”

Fauci also urged Americans to get their coronavirus booster shot as soon as they are eligible, and said that the Biden administration is examining whether a variant-specific booster shot eventually may be necessary.

“We may not need a variant-specific boost; we’re preparing for the possibility that we need a variant-specific boost,” Fauci said. “And that’s what the companies are doing. We have been — the administration has been in contact with the pharmaceutical companies to go ahead and take the steps in case we need it. But the mistake people will make is to say, ‘Let me wait and see if we get one.’ If you’re eligible for boosting, get boosted right now.”

Key updateFirst case of covid-19 linked to new omicron variant found in California By Lena H. Sun [washingtonpost.com] and Katie Shepherd [washingtonpost.com]2:18 p.m.Link copied

The first U.S. case of covid-19 linked to the new omicron variant has been identified in California in a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

The patient has mild symptoms that are improving and is in self-quarantine. Genetic sequencing was performed by the University of California at San Francisco and confirmed by the CDC.

Since the new variant was first reported in southern Africa last week, it has been identified in at least 19 countries [washingtonpost.com] spanning the globe, and officials had expected it to appear in the United States.

Christian network founder who discouraged vaccinations dies after contracting covid-19 By Michelle Boorstein [washingtonpost.com]1:21 p.m.Link copied

Marcus Lamb, founder of the large Christian television network Daystar, died Tuesday after contracting the coronavirus [washingtonpost.com]. Lamb’s network during the pandemic has made the virus a huge focus, calling it a satanic attack that should not be treated with vaccines. He was 64 years old.

Daystar is the second-largest Christian network in the world, according to CBN News, a competitor, reaching 2 billion people worldwide. Its brand is a fluid, modern, charismatic faith, more about general good vs. evil, miraculous healings and religious freedom than any specific denominational theology.

During the pandemic, Lamb and his network went in big with anti-vaccine conspiracy claims, hosting daily interviews with skeptics who talked about alleged dangerous, hidden forces pushing vaccines and stealing Christians’ freedoms.

Key updateWHO blasts travel bans as ineffective in stopping spread of omicron By Paulina Villegas [washingtonpost.com]12:33 p.m.Link copied

World health officials blasted blanket travel bans on people coming from southern Africa, imposed by countries seeking to stop the spread of the omicron variant, arguing that they are ineffective and can cause social and economic harm.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of omicron, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), during a news briefing Wednesday. It is “deeply concerning,” he said, that African countries are being “penalized” for reporting cases of the new coronavirus variant.

Tedros, along with other top WHO officials, said such travel restrictions are not effective in stopping the spread of the new variant and urged countries to instead implement “rational and proportional” science-based measures such as increased testing before and upon travel, quarantines, expanded surveillance programs and ramped-up vaccination efforts.

“Our concern is that we apply public health principles, not political principles, to select the measures we use to control the spread of the disease, and those are targeted at reducing the transmission of the virus while presenting the least possible imposition on the individual’s rights,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.

Ryan said there are some “inherent” contradictions in some of these imposed blanket measures, like countries banning entry depending on nationality, residence, passport, etc.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for covid-19 with the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, emphasized that there is still not enough information to determine omicron’s transmissibility, but that the variant is likely to prove more transmissible. She added that officials have seen reports of confirmed omicron cases that “go from mild all the way to severe disease,” but she stressed that it is still “early days” and that scientists continue to learn more about the variant.

Kerkhove said scientists are expected to have more conclusive information about transmissibility within days, and she reiterated the importance of vaccines. She said vaccines offer a high degree of protection against the dominant delta variant, which continues its spread around the world.

“Even if there is reduction in efficacy, it is still better to get the vaccine because it will save your life,” she said.

Trump tested positive for coronavirus before first debate with Biden, former chief of staff says By Felicia Sonmez [washingtonpost.com]12:03 p.m.Link copied

President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus days before his first debate against then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in September 2020, a former top aide says in a new book.

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows writes that Trump tested positive for the virus on Sept. 26, 2020, three days before his Sept. 29 debate with Biden, according to the Guardian [theguardian.com], which obtained a copy of the book ahead of its official release next week.

The White House did not reveal the positive test at the time, and Trump received a negative result from a different test shortly thereafter, Meadows writes.

The coronavirus is set to cost the tourism industry $1.6 trillion this year. Omicron could make it worse. By Ellen Francis [washingtonpost.com]11:22 a.m.Link copied

The return of tougher covid restrictions to fight the latest variant, omicron, has already left some travelers stranded [washingtonpost.com]. For many tourism businesses, it’s also threatening hopes of an upcoming holiday boost this year — especially after last year’s shutdowns emptied out popular destinations, from the Colosseum in Rome to the resort island of Bali.

“There was a kind of sunrise on the horizon” earlier this year, said Tobias Warnecke, the German hotel association’s economic adviser. Now, thanks to infections and rule changes roaring back, and fears over omicron, “we have a lot of cancellations, and we’re on our way down.”

With scientists rushing to better understand the variant and its high number of mutations, governments including in the United States [washingtonpost.com] have started tightening masking, quarantine and travel rules.

Ask The Post: What do you want to know about the omicron variant? By Washington Post Staff10:27 a.m.Link copied

Health officials and vaccine makers are worried that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus could be more transmissible and adept at evading the body’s immune defenses because of its high number of mutations.

On Tuesday, the chief executive of the coronavirus vaccine maker Moderna predicted that existing vaccines might be much less effective [washingtonpost.com] against the omicron variant, spooking financial markets.

Although the omicron variant’s mutations [washingtonpost.com] have concerned scientists, who are quickly trying to learn all they can [washingtonpost.com], much remains unknown. “It’s a complete black box,” one virologist told The Post. [washingtonpost.com]

Three health and science reporters — Akilah Johnson [washingtonpost.com], Fenit Nirappil [washingtonpost.com] and Joel Achenbach [washingtonpost.com] — and William Booth [washingtonpost.com], the London bureau chief for The Post, will answer your questions on Wednesday at 1 p.m. Eastern time. All of them have been covering the coronavirus pandemic in different capacities since its earliest days.

Send in your questions here [washingtonpost.com].

Key updateKey updateKey updateCoronavirus: What you need to read

Coronavirus maps: Cases and deaths in the U.S. [washingtonpost.com] | Cases and deaths worldwide [washingtonpost.com]

Vaccines:Tracker by state [washingtonpost.com] | Booster shots [washingtonpost.com]| For kids 5 to 11 [washingtonpost.com] | Guidance for vaccinated people [washingtonpost.com] | How long does immunity last? [washingtonpost.com] | County-level vaccine data [washingtonpost.com]

Do you think you’re experiencing long-haul covid symptoms? Share your experience with The Post. [submissionplatform.com]

What you need to know: Omicron variant [washingtonpost.com] | Masks FAQ [washingtonpost.com] | Delta variant [washingtonpost.com] |Other variants [washingtonpost.com] | Symptoms guide [washingtonpost.com] | Follow all of our coverage [washingtonpost.com] and sign up for our free newsletter [washingtonpost.com]

Impact of the pandemic:Supply chain [washingtonpost.com] | Education [washingtonpost.com] | Housing [washingtonpost.com]

Got a pandemic question? We answer one every day in our coronavirus newsletter [submissionplatform.com]

MORE ON THE OMICRON VARIANTHAND CURATED

View 3 more stories;

First case of omicron COVID variant identified in the US [cnet.com]:

The first confirmed US case of the omicron variant [youtube.com] of COVID-19 [cnet.com] has been identified in California, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a White House briefing Wednesday. The infected person arrived in the US from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29, Fauci said.

"Genomic sequencing was conducted at the University of California at San Francisco, and the sequence was confirmed at the CDC as being consistent with the omicron variant," said Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

Read more:New US travel ban for omicron variant: What it means [cnet.com]

The person was fully vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine -- but had not had a booster shot [cnet.com] -- and experienced only mild symptoms that are now improving. They are quarantining, and all close contacts have so far tested negative, Fauci said. The person is a resident of San Francisco between the ages of 18 and 49, and was not hospitalized, California Governor Gavin Newsom said during a press conference Wednesday.

"We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States," Fauci said.

Fauci reiterated that within the next three weeks, there will be a lot more information about the transmissibility and severity of this strain of the disease, as well as the effectiveness of vaccinations [cnet.com] and booster shots [cnet.com] against the omicron variant [cnet.com]. The new variant was first identified in South Africa [cnet.com] in late November.

The omicron variant was identified by UCSF [youtube.com] at around 4am Wednesday morning, it confirmed during a press conference with San Francisco Mayor London Breed. California will increase COVID-19 testing at airports [ca.gov] for arrivals from countries identified by the CDC.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

Also at Ars Technica [arstechnica.com], www.aljazeera.com [aljazeera.com]


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