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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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.

11:27 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

All 14 passengers with Omicron variant who traveled on South Africa flights to Netherlands were vaccinated

From CNN’s Mick Krever in London

Passengers of flights from South Africa who have tested positive for Covid-19 are quarantined in a hotel on November 28, 2021, at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Dutch health authorities said on November 27 that 61 passengers from two flights from South Africa tested positive for Covid-19 and the results were being examined for the new Omicron variant. The people who tested positive were now being quarantined in a hotel near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, where the 600 people on board the two planes from Johannesburg spent hours waiting on November 26. Amsterdam, Netherlands, November 28, 2021
Passengers of flights from South Africa who have tested positive for Covid-19 are quarantined in a hotel on November 28, 2021, at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Dutch health authorities said on November 27 that 61 passengers from two flights from South Africa tested positive for Covid-19 and the results were being examined for the new Omicron variant. The people who tested positive were now being quarantined in a hotel near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, where the 600 people on board the two planes from Johannesburg spent hours waiting on November 26. Amsterdam, Netherlands, November 28, 2021 (Robin Utrecht/ABACA/Reuters)

All 14 people who tested positive for the Omicron variant of coronavirus on two flights from South Africa to the Netherlands last Friday had been vaccinated, a spokesperson for the local health board tells CNN.

“Everyone in whom the Omicron variant was found on Friday was vaccinated,” Willem van den Oetelaar, spokesperson for the Kennemerland health board, told CNN in a statement.

The Dutch government confirmed earlier this week that 14 of the 624 people who arrived in the Netherlands on Friday were found to be positive for the Omicron variant.

Around 90% of the total 61 people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 "have told us that they were vaccinated,” van den Oetelaar said.

10:56 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Second US case of Omicron variant found in Minnesota

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt and Jamie Gumbrecht

The second case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States has been identified in Minnesota, according to a statement from state health officials.

The state's Public Health Laboratory found the variant in a specimen from a Minnesota resident with recent travel history to New York City.

The person with the Omicron variant is an adult male, is a resident of Hennepin County and had been vaccinated, according to officials.

The person developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and got tested on Nov. 24. They had traveled to New York City and attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from Nov. 19-21.

Health officials expect to find more cases of the variant as genetic sequencing continues around the country. The United States’ first case was identified in California on Wednesday. Since the World Health Organization designated Omicron a variant of concern, health officials have made clear they expect to find cases in the United States. However, the Delta variant of the coronavirus remains the dominant variant globally and in the United States.

Minnesota epidemiologists said they will continue to investigate and collaborate with New York City researchers and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Having a robust virus surveillance system in place allowed MDH to quickly identify Omicron once it entered the state and made it more likely that Minnesota would be among the first states to find the variant," according to the statement.

Minnesota health officials continue to encourage residents to get vaccinated and get their booster shots, as well as practice social distancing, head-washing and mask-wearing.