The US has laid out a new pandemic strategy.
Not exactly. Last week, health officials in South Africa identified a new variant: Omicron. And ‘til there’s more info on it, some world leaders are rethinking their approach to the pandemic. Germany announced a lockdown for the unvaxxed. Israel and Japan have closed their borders. The US has already confirmed Omicron cases in five states...and more will likely follow, which has sent the stock market tumbling. Now, the Biden admin is hitting refresh on the US’s pandemic measures.
President Biden shared plans for hundreds of new vaccination sites and a push for boosters (which all vaxxed US adults are eligible for). And as early as next week, the US will be requiring all international travelers — regardless of vax status — to test negative for COVID-19 within a day of departure. A mask mandate on public transportation is also being extended through mid-March. There's a plan to provide more at-home testing kits – and have insurers reimburse the cost. But guidance on what that reimbursement process will look like won’t be out ‘til Jan 15.
Health experts are welcoming the updates. But many are getting impatient and calling on the gov to get those vax sites up before Santa's sleigh hits rooftops. And say testing and screening are also key. Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci said those who are fully vaxxed should be fine, but should get a booster shot “now.” And the White House isn't leaving anything "off the table" in terms of protections...meaning domestic travel restrictions could be an unwelcome gift under the tree.
South Africa's already seeing an exponential increase in cases driven by Omicron. It's a warning to the rest of the world that there could soon be a new dominant variant in town. And may nudge those who haven't been vaxxed to get the job done.
PS: Here's what we know (and don't know) about the Omicron variant.
“Remain in Mexico.” Yesterday, the Biden admin said it reached a deal with the Mexican gov to re-implement the controversial Trump-era immigration policy. Under the former president, Remain in Mexico sent more than 60,000 asylum seekers to Mexico while their asylum claims were being processed. The move exposed them to gangs, kidnappers, and even rape. On his first day in office, President Biden suspended the “inhumane” policy. But Missouri and Texas sued. And the courts (including SCOTUS) forced the admin to restart the policy. Now, Remain in Mexico’s expected to start back up on Monday.
The new conditions: This time, the Biden admin’s offering COVID-19 vax doses to asylum seekers. And ensuring safe transportation to and from court hearings, shelter, and legal counsel. The admin also promised to process claims within six months.
California. Earlier this week, state officials announced that water agencies serving 27 million residents won’t be getting any water in 2022. Except for critical health and safety. Every year, districts across the Golden State apparently submit requests for water to the state. And then the water is divided depending on how much snow and rainfall California gets. Well, the state’s been under a historic drought. The past year has been the second driest in CA history. Now, the state’s apparently saying districts won't be getting water for things like irrigation, landscaping, and gardening. And that if things continue to get worse, the state may have to bring back some intense conservation measures. Think: fining people for not reducing their water usage, shorter showers, and more.
Planned Parenthood's hacking. This week, the org’s LA branch said it suffered a ransomware attack. And that it compromised the info of about 400,000 patients. It’s unclear who carried out the attack. But they got access to personal information, including addresses and “clinical” info like the type of procedure people received. It comes amid a broader uptick in ransomware attacks. And has raised concerns about possible extortion.
Speaking of women’s health: Yesterday, a new Texas law went into effect — limiting the window in which women can receive abortion-inducing medication. Now, it’s a felony to provide the drugs after seven weeks (instead of 10). And they can’t be mailed either.
Psst...Learn more about hackers' weapon of choice: ransomware.
Antonio Brown. Yesterday, the NFL suspended the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver and two other players for three games. The reason: they “misrepresented” their COVID-19 vax status. Major fumble.
Skimm’d by Rashaan Ayesh, Maria del Carmen Corpus, Clem Robineau, and Julie Shain
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While US vaccination rates increased because of the Delta variant, it also ushered in a new wave of COVID-19 infections. And now with Omicron’s spread, Americans are learning more about how variants are able to mutate and become more transmissible. Learn more here.
All US adults are now eligible for booster shots. Remember: COVID-19 vaccines first debuted in the US a year ago. Since then, gov agencies have issued a slew of new guidelines, giving Americans access to another layer of protection. Here’s what you need to know.
Got COVID questions? We did, too. "Skimm This" talked to US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy about what to call this big spike in cases, how bad things might get before they get better, and whether employers should be mandating employees get vaccinated.