With the COVID-19 omicron variant spreading into new countries seemingly by the hour, extra precautions are being put in place in the U.S., with more restrictive travel rules expected later this week.
One of those precautions is a new testing program at San Francisco International Airport. Travelers from overseas are finding a volunteer testing option available at SFO.
Previously offered to arrivals from India, the program is now available at four U.S. airports to those traveling from South Africa, Germany, France and the U.K.
Many experts said the new variant should not ground people during the holidays.
“I think you have to be flexible,” said Dr. George Rutherford, UCSF epidemiologist. “The next couple of weeks will tell how much of a problem omicron is going to be.”
The World Health Organization, however, already has advised people ages 60 and older and those living with afflictions such as heart disease or cancer to postpone any travel plans.
Health officials said Tuesday the omicron variant was on the move earlier than initially thought. The first known cases were reported in Botswana on Nov. 11.
Officials in the Netherlands also said the strain apparently already was in the country at least a week earlier than previously believed.
There seems to be little doubt the new variant will soon be in the U.S. or perhaps already is. But experts are also reminding the public the U.S. is well-prepared to battle it.
“With the vaccination rate and the number of boosters into our arms, and masking we know slows the virus, I’m cautiously hopeful we’ll be in a good place when it gets here,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco health director.
President Joe Biden is expected to announce Thursday that everyone entering the country will be tested one day before boarding flights regardless of vaccination status or country of departure.
Right now, the rule is three days. The administration also is considering a requirement that all travelers be retested within three to five days of arriving.