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Omicron Variant Spreads to Multiple US States, Biden Pushes for At-Home Testing

Travelers wait for their luggage in a terminal at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. Yffy Yossifor/Star-Telegram via AP)

New cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have been discovered in more cities and states. The first case was reported in California, but now there are 5 known cases in New York and a report of one case each in Minnesota and Hawaii.

Scientists are working on finding out the severity of this new variant. But preliminary data already shows re-infections are 3-times more likely with Omicron versus earlier variants.

The Biden administration is encouraging those still eligible for booster shots to get one.

"Experts say the COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead this winter, so we need to be ready," President Biden said during a visit to the National Institutes of Health in suburban Maryland. If you look at this chart from Johns Hopkins University, the rate of COVID cases does appear to be spiking now.

Beginning Monday, new travel restrictions will take effect. Travelers will need proof of a negative COVID test before leaving for the U.S.

Biden is now planning to make private insurers cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests. "I'm announcing that health insurers must cover the cost of at-home testing, so that if you're one of the 153 million Americans with private health insurance, next month your plan will cover at-home tests," he said.

Biden's other plans are to set up more vaccine clinics, stock up on anti-viral pills, offer more free and low-cost at-home testing, and have strike teams to help states with any outbreaks. 

The White House has not announced any major new restrictions or mandates, but the administration is calling for an extension of mask mandates on airplanes, buses, and trains through March of 2022.

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