The Biden administration is expected to announce on Thursday that it will require all international travelers to test negative for COVID-19 within one day of their departure to the US. The change will start early next week, according to a senior administration official, and will be regardless of nationality or vaccination status. This tightens the testing timeline for vaccinated travelers, who previously could show proof of a negative result from within three days prior to departure. A requirement to wear masks aboard domestic flights will be extended from January to March.
The Biden administration international travel requirement announcement came as part of a winter COVID-19 strategy released on Thursday morning. The raft of measures arrives on the heels of the news of the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the U.S. On Dec. 1, a person in California was confirmed to have COVID-19 caused by the new Omicron variant, according to US health officials.
The new COVID-19 strategy is largely aimed at expanding boosters and vaccinations nationwide, in particular shots for school-age children, starting with a new public education campaign. The administration will also launch hundreds of family vaccination clinics nationwide. The measures include reimbursement of at-home COVID-19 tests for the 150 million Americans covered by private insurance, and the distribution of 50 million free tests to health centers and rural clinics.
"While this new variant is a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic," said the senior administration official, on a briefing call with reporters. "We have the tools we need to confront this variant to keep making progress in our fight against the virus."
South African scientists first alerted the world of the new variant last week, and more than a dozen countries have already identified cases of it within their borders. The World Health Organization has declared Omicron a "variant of concern."
In response to the emergence of the new variant, the US on Monday began restricting travel into the country from South Africa and at least seven other countries. But by that point, the variant was already here.
"The individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22, 2021," according to a press release by the CDC. "The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive."
The San Francisco Department of Public Health is "continuing to speak with the individual about any persons with whom they have been in contact," according to a statement from the San Francisco Emergency Operations Center.
The individual, who has not yet been named, is between the ages of 18 to 49, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. California officials also confirmed the person received the Moderna vaccine but no booster, and has not been hospitalized at any point since symptoms appeared.
The fact that the person has mild symptoms and is improving "is a testimony to the importance of the vaccinations," said California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly.
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) did the original genomic sequencing of the case, and the CDC confirmed the results were consistent with the Omicron variant.
California announced today that it is increasing COVID-19 testing at its airports for people coming from certain countries. "We recognize that everyone is exhausted, and the news of a new variant can be overwhelming," California and San Francisco health officials said in a joint statement. "It is important that we collectively focus on the things we know prevent the spread of COVID-19, and its variants."
Officials highlighted that people should get vaccinated and booster shots if they haven't already, as well as wear masks indoors, get tested if symptomatic, and stay home if they are sick.
Little is known about the new variant at this point, including whether it is more transmissible or more deadly than other variants or if current vaccines will be effective against it.