Air China flight crew members in hazmat suits walk through the arrivals area at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, on Wednesday, California reported the first U.S. case of the omicron variant. Brazil and Japan joined the rapidly widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Biden to announce testing, booster expansion

No new travel restrictions but more testing

The Biden administration will announce a massive campaign to expand COVID-19 testing, vaccines and boosters, senior administration officials said Wednesday, in order to combat the spread of the omicron variant which was identified in California.

Speaking at a news conference administration officials said President Joe Biden would announce several measures Thursday to combat the spread of the variant during the winter months. Going forward, at-home COVID-19 tests will be 100% covered by private insurance, administration officials said, and 50 million of the tests will be distributed nationwide to health centers and rural clinics to be given out for free. Locally, the City and Borough of Juneau began this week distributing rapid tests to residents.

The U.S. identified its first case of the variant Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a vaccinated traveler who returned to California after a trip to South Africa, where the omicron variatnt was first identified.

“We have the tools we need to control this variant we are using these tools to keep people safe,” one official said.

Officials said the president will make an announcement Thursday on the full extent of the measures which included expansion of vaccine booster distribution.

According to administration officials, the White House was not currently considering any additional health protocols for international arrivals but was increasing the availability of testing and vaccination at airports. The administration has partnered with AARP to help notify senior citizens about the availability of vaccines and testing, officials said.

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Health care officials have been urging caution after a new and more contagious variant of COVID-19 was first identified in South Africa. On Monday, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and other state officials cautioned that much was still unknown about the variant but said international agencies were sharing data as quickly as possible.

According to AP, the infected person developed mild symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19 Monday. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, obtained a sample from the patient Tuesday evening and worked overnight to assemble the genetic sequence. The person, who had had the full two doses of the Moderna vaccine and wasn’t yet due for a booster shot, is improving, California officials said.

The mild nature of the California person’s infection “is a testimony to the importance of the vaccinations,” said California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, according to AP.

All the individual’s close contacts have been reached and have tested negative, officials said. The patient, who agreed to remain in quarantine, was identified only as being between 18 and 49.

At least 23 other countries have reported omicron infections since South African authorities first identified the variant a week ago — an announcement that led the U.S. and many other nations to almost immediately bar airline travelers arriving from southern Africa.

In South Africa, new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a single day to almost 8,600, authorities reported Wednesday, and the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said omicron has now overtaken the delta variant among samples now being analyzed at the genetic level.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire. The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article

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