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5 Takeaways from Today’s COVID-19 Briefing

What you need to know about Omicron, booster doses, state of spread in Pennsylvania

November 30, 2021

Public health leaders in Pennsylvania and across the country are closely monitoring the Omicron variant while urging eligible Americans to get vaccinated or sign up for a booster dose.

Today, the White House COVID Response Team hosted its weekly briefing to highlight the latest developments in the fight against COVID-19 and the new variant.

“One thing has become clear over the last 20 months: we cannot predict the future, but we can be prepared for it,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 80 percent of U.S. counties have “high” or “substantial” spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC. All Pennsylvania counties are in the “high” level for transmission. Pennsylvania’s statewide percent positivity rate for COVID-19 for the week of November 19–25 stood at about 12 percent.

Here are five takeaways from today’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • Is Omicron already here?:  There have been no reports to date of Omicron in the U.S., and the Delta variant remains 99.9 percent of sequenced cases in the country. The U.S. is sequencing about 80,000 COVID-19 samples per week to understand the variants circulating here and will continue to monitor for the new variant. The virus has been reported in about 20 other countries
  • Why the mutations matter:  The Omicron mutations in the spike protein are very different than the ones found in the other variants of concern. These mutations are associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion, but research is underway to better understand the variant’s characteristics, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor
  • Vaccine protection:  COVID-19 vaccines and booster doses increase the level of antibody protection to help thwart severe disease, which should confer at least some degree of “cross protection” against the new variant, Dr. Fauci said
  • Booster doses:  Yesterday, the CDC strengthened its recommendation for booster doses, encouraging all adults eligible for boosters to get the additional dose
  • International travel:  The CDC has enhanced its public health measures to ensure the safety during international travel, such as pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations for post-arrival testing and self-quarantine

“To be crystal clear, we have far more tools to fight the variant today than we had at this time last year,” Dr. Walensky said, citing the availability of vaccines for people 5 and older, booster doses, and additional testing capacity.

In addition, the CDC is not changing the definition of who counts as fully vaccinated, but is strongly urging eligible adults to receive the booster dose, Dr. Walensky said.

HAP joins the nation’s public health leaders urging everyone who is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or the booster dose to make an appointment. Learn more about available appointments in your community.

A replay of the briefing is available online.