December 2 Omicron coronavirus variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Sheena McKenzie & Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, December 3, 2021
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7:34 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

New York officials announce the identification of 5 Omicron cases

From CNN's Laura Ly

New York officials said Thursday they had identified five Omicron variant cases in New York state, not all of them among travelers, indicating community spread, but said all were mild.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, joined by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, said the five confirmed cases “aren’t life-threatening” and “seem to be minor cases.” She added that she expects more cases to emerge in the coming days.

“We’re not changing our protocols, we are continuing where we are, but making sure that we work in concert together and encourage people to get tested, get tested often, get the vaccination — and that, again, is our best defense,” Hochul said.

Four of the five confirmed cases were identified in residents of New York City. Another case was identified in a resident of Suffolk County, New York.

The five confirmed cases in New York state are, according to Hochul:

  • A 67-year-old female from Suffolk County with mild symptoms. She recently traveled from South Africa and had at least one vaccine. She tested negative for Covid-19 on 11/25, and then tested positive on 11/30.
  • A person who lives Queens, New York City. Their vaccination status is currently unknown and officials did not have other details.
  • A person who lives Queens, New York City. Their vaccination status is currently unknown and officials did not have other details.
  • A person who lives Brooklyn, New York City. Their vaccination status is currently unknown and officials did not have other details.
  • A person who lives New York City, though their borough of residents is currently unknown. Their vaccination status is currently unknown and officials did not have other details, other that that this person is also another “suspected traveler” case.

“The Omicron variant is here in New York City and New York State. We are in a situation where there is community spread. This is not just due to people who are traveling,” Chokshi said.

Chokshi added that while the Suffolk County woman tested positive on Nov. 30, the sequencing results from her Covid-19 did not reveal the presence of the Omicron variant until Thursday. He added that approximately 15% of PCR tests in New York City undergo sequencing. 

When asked whether Hochul plans to institute stronger mandates to combat Covid-19 as a result of these cases, the governor said the state is encouraging indoor mask use and vaccination, but said they “not going to overreact.”

She added that if more is learned about Omicron and its consequences, she will react quickly if needed.

She also said that contact tracing for all five cases has begun and that it’s too early to tell whether any of the cases are related.

CNN’s Liam Reilly contributed to this report

6:47 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Omicron is a concern but the US is in a "different place" in the pandemic, US surgeon general says

From CNN's Jen Christensen

The Omicron variant has people worried, but there are tools now to protect people and the US needs to double down on using them, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Thursday.

“We are in such a different place now than we were one year ago because we’ve learned a lot more. We have vaccines available. We have far more tests available, and what we’ve got to do to get through this winter is to make sure that we are doubling down on our vaccination strategy,” Murthy told CNN.

Scientists are still trying to determine if the new variant is more transmissible, if it causes more severe illness, and if the vaccines work well against it.

“One thing that we do know is that we are doing everything that is necessary to get those answers,” Murthy said. “It will take several weeks.”

Murthy said scientists have hints about how well tests work to detect infections with Omicron and how well vaccines work to protect people against infections with Omicron. Scientists are “more and more confident,” he said, that existing tests will detect this version of the virus, but they will keep researching to be 100% sure.

“There’s a lot we don’t know, but there’s a lot we do know,” Murthy said. “We do know that this variant, like other variants, we can protect ourselves against it with masks, with hand hygiene, with distancing, the same tools that worked last year and throughout this year will continue to work.”

Murthy added that people need to get boosted.

“We do feel very confident, Wolf, that there will be some protection that you get from the vaccine but its especially important that you get boosted,” Murthy said. 

6:24 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Biden’s new testing regulation goes into effect at midnight Monday

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

All flights departing after 12:01 a.m. ET Dec. 6 will abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new testing order, according to an administration official. 

Currently, vaccinated travelers are required to test three days – or 72 hours – before their departures. The new order shortens that timeline to one day.

3:17 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Biden continues push for booster shots as he unveils Covid-19 response for winter months

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury and DJ Judd

A Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot being administered in person's arm in Freeport, New York on November 30, 2021.
A Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot being administered in person's arm in Freeport, New York on November 30, 2021. (Steve Pfost/Newsday/Getty Images)

President Biden continued to urge all eligible Americans to get booster shots during his remarks from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, where he outlined his administration’s Covid-19 response plan.

"We're expanding our national booster campaign to provide booster shots to all eligible adults. Our docs and the scientists believe that people who get a booster shot are protected more than ever from Covid-19," Biden said.

Biden said that he will provide "paid off time for federal employees" who go to get a booster shot.

"They don't get docked their pay. I'm asking other employers in the private sector to do the same thing. Now, I don't want you to have to choose between a paycheck and getting an additional protection for a booster shot," Biden said.

As the fate of the administration’s vaccine requirements languish in the courts, Biden indicated that today’s announcements will “not expand or add to those mandates,” calling it “a plan that all Americans can, hopefully can rally around, and it should be — and should get bipartisan support, in my humble opinion. It should unite us, not continue to separate us.”  

Biden acknowledged the looming threat of the Omicron variant, about which little remains known, telling Americans, “I want to reiterate, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins believe if you're worried about the Omicron variant, the best thing to do is get fully vaccinated and then get your booster shot when you're when you're eligible.”

Biden also said that the administration is preparing contingency plans for vaccines.

“We don't yet believe that additional measures will be needed, but so that we're prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for other vaccines or boosters, and I'll also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process available without cutting corners for safety to get such vaccines renewed — reviewed and renewed, reviewed and approved if they're needed.” 

Biden outlined the steps his administration announced earlier today to expand testing, increase vaccine outreach, restrict travel and increased response capabilities, highlighting travel restrictions from South and Southern Africa while praising South Africa for moving quickly to identify the Omicron variant.

2:20 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

CNN analysis: Risk of dying from Covid-19 is higher in red states

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

Since vaccines have become widely available, the average risk of dying from Covid-19 is more than 50% higher in states that voted for President Trump in 2020 than it is in states that voted for President Biden, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

In the first 11 months of the pandemic – from the initial surge through the winter 2020 surge, before vaccines became widely available – the average Covid-19 death rate was about the same along party lines. Through the end of January 2021, states that voted for Trump in the 2020 election had an average of 128 Covid-19 deaths for every 100,000 people, while states that voted for Biden had an average of 127 Covid-19 deaths for every 100,000 people.

New Jersey and New York, two states hit hard early on, had the highest death rates during this time. Mississippi and Louisiana also ranked among the 10 worst-hit states.

In early February 2021, the number of people who received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine surpassed the total number of Covid-19 cases in the US.

In the 10 months since then, nearly 60% of the US population has become fully vaccinated and the average Covid-19 death rate in the US overall is 25% lower than it was in the 11 months before. 

The average death rate dropped even more in blue states. But in red states, where vaccination rates generally lag the national average, the average death rate hasn’t changed nearly as much. 

More context: Since Feb. 1, red states have had an average of 116 Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 people – 52% higher than the average of 77 deaths per 100,000 people in blue states. The five states with the worst per capita death rates in that time all voted for Trump in 2020: Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Four in 10 Republicans remain unvaccinated, compared to about one in 10 Democrats, according to data from a Kaiser Family Foundation survey published Wednesday. Fully vaccinated Republicans were also less likely than Democrats to have received a booster dose.

2:07 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

NYC mayor urges attendees of anime convention to get tested for Covid-19

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

The Anime NYC convention took place at the Javits Center in New York City from November 18-22. The second case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States has been identified in Minnesota and the person recently traveled to New York City and attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention from Nov. 19-21.
The Anime NYC convention took place at the Javits Center in New York City from November 18-22. The second case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States has been identified in Minnesota and the person recently traveled to New York City and attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention from Nov. 19-21. (Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)

Following the identification of the Omicron coronavirus variant in a Minnesota man who recently traveled to New York City and went to an anime convention, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio encouraged attendees to get tested for Covid-19 as quickly as possible.

"We should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city," de Blasio said in a statement.

The Anime NYC convention took place at the Javits Center from Nov. 18-22. De Blasio said the conference required masks and vaccination.

The city is working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Javits Center event organizers, he added.

1:52 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

NOW: President Biden details his winter Covid-19 strategy as Omicron is found in the US

From CNN's Donald Judd

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden is speaking now and giving an update on the coronavirus pandemic in the US. He is expected to detail new actions Thursday aimed at protecting Americans from the Delta and newly discovered Omicron variants.

Biden is expected to present the administration's nine-pronged plan in remarks at the National Institutes of Health, a day after officials confirmed the first recorded case of the Omicron variant in the United States, in California.

"While this new variant is a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic," a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday ahead of the President's remarks. "We have the tools we need to confront this variant, to keep making progress in our fight against the virus, and we are using these tools to keep people safe, keep our schools open and protect our economy."
1:09 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

White House anticipates more cases of the Omicron variant in the United States

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Biden administration expects to see more cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday. She also reiterated prior comments from public health officials, saying that recently-instated travel restrictions would not prevent the variant from entering the US, but give the country some lead time to prepare. 

“We do anticipate there will be more cases and we know that will be the case. And that’s why we’re focused on everything we can to fight the virus and the variant,” Psaki said during the White House press briefing. 

Psaki stressed the need to be careful in how the government and the media "assess and attribute" potential community spread, and said that the White House will provide information about variant cases in the country "as it becomes available.”

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the variant yet,” Psaki underscored. “It could be less deadly. It could be more. We don’t know.” 

“The President … continues to believe that if we build on the bold steps that we’ve taken to date, if we continue to make the vaccines more accessible, to increase testing, increase masking, we can return to a version of normal in this country. That’s what everybody wants, and everybody would like to see,” she added.

1:04 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Finland reports its first case of Omicron variant

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a dose of covid-19 vaccine to a woman in Helsinki, Finland on May 31, 2021. The first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in Finland, the Finnish Health Institute said on December 1.
A healthcare worker prepares to administer a dose of covid-19 vaccine to a woman in Helsinki, Finland on May 31, 2021. The first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in Finland, the Finnish Health Institute said on December 1. (Matti Matikainen/Xinhua/Getty Images)

Finland reported its first case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus on Thursday.

The person was traveling from Sweden, Finland's health institute said in a news release, adding that other people in the same group as this person have also tested positive for Covid-19, but have “not yet been confirmed as cases of the Omicron variant.”

The group has returned to Finland from Sweden, the institute said.

"Local authorities are tracing exposed persons and have taken preventive measures in the hospital districts of Varsinais-Suomi, Helsinki and Uusimaa and Pohjois-Savo," it added.