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Officials seek to allay fears over new Omicron COVID-19 variant as concerns and questions grow; “There is no reason to panic” – CBS Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) – Amid growing questions and concerns about the new ‘Omicron’ variant of COVID-19, President Joe Biden insisted on Monday that the United States can handle anything that comes our way, as local officials are preparing for its eventual arrival here in the Chicago area.

“We will fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable action and speed, not chaos and confusion,” Biden said Monday.

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The president, flanked by chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci and vice president Kamala Harris, told the nation the variant was “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.” He said the United States has more tools to tackle COVID-19 than ever before and is in a much better position to tackle the virus than it was in March 2020, or even December. 2020.

First step in the fight: travel restrictions from 8 countries in southern Africa, where the variant was first detected. These entered into force on Monday.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has said preliminary evidence suggests the risk of the Omicron variant is “very high.” Late Monday afternoon, the CDC stepped up its recommendations on booster shots, saying all eligible adults should receive one.

CBS 2 investigator Megan Hickey looked into preparations for the new variant in Chicago.

Chicago is ideally located both as a hub for international travel and a hub for research into the fight against the virus – and any new variants that may be heading our way.

“We have been studying these variants from the start, even before they were called variants,” said Dr. Egon Ozer, assistant professor of infectious disease medicine at Northwestern University and a physician at Northwestern Medicine.

For months, CBS2 investigators have brought you stories at the forefront of COVID-19 research and developing genomic sequencing right here in the Chicagoland region.

“We hope we can save the majority of patients,” Yulia Komarova, associate professor in the department of pharmacology and regenerative medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told CBS 2 in August.

Ozer said that is why we are well positioned to handle the Omicron variant.

“I think it’s likely he’s already there, yes. I think it’s likely it’s already somewhere in the United States, ”he said.

Ozer said Chicagoans should be particularly interested in the Omicron variant for two reasons.

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“Anytime you have a busy international or domestic airport, there is always concern that variants or new infections may spread more easily within these populations; and so that is of course a concern for the people of Chicago, ”he said. “But we also have a lot going in our favor, one is that we have a very robust genomic sequencing program.”

Chicago is full of researchers at the forefront of variant mapping and also working on treatments.

In the last check, the Omicron variant was detected in South Africa – where it was first reported on November 24 – and in at least 14 other countries.

If the looming fear of variants during the holiday season sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s been about a year since the Delta variant was first identified in India in December 2020.

Has Delta encountered this hype, attention and concern that we have given it?

“Yes and no. So I think there was a lot of fear, when Delta arrived on the scene, that there was more immune resistance. There was concern that the potential for transmission was higher. Both have ended up being true, but not necessarily as far as we thought. We now know that vaccines remain very effective against the delta variant, “Ozer said.” We can still protect ourselves against this transmission with masks and distancing We didn’t really need to change our approach to preventing the transmission of this virus. “

Ozer said he agreed with President Joe Biden that the U.S. restrictions on travel from southern African countries, which went into effect on Monday, could help slow the spread while the Americans get vaccinated or get vaccinated.

So far, the South African Medical Association has reported mostly mild symptoms of the Omicron variant since it was officially reported last week.

“Currently there is no reason to panic because we are not seeing seriously ill patients,” said Angelique Coetzee, president of the South African Medical Association.

Ozer said he expects over the next few weeks they will have more information on whether this variant is more transmissible than other strains and whether or not it causes more serious disease.

“We’ve had several variations coming and going over the past couple of years; some of which have had, you know, quite a bit of scientific and / or media hype as being potentially more vocal, or the next bad thing, and a lot of them have kind of fizzled out or been more regional, ”he said. he declared.

Ozer said that until we know more, we need to double vaccinations, boosters, masking and social distancing.

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President Biden said he would release a more detailed strategy on Thursday to tackle the variant.

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