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As omicron is reported now in at least 15 states, officials push again for vaccines, boosters, masks: COVID-19 updates

Vaccinations and booster shots continue to be the best defense against the coronavirus for the U.S., even with the spread of the new omicron variant, which now has been reported in at least 15 states, health officials said Sunday.

Vaccines developed to fight the original COVID-19 strain have offered good protection against the delta variant, the dominant strain in the U.S., said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He believes they will help with omicron, especially for those who also get a booster shot.

“If you get boosted … we feel certain that there will be some degree and maybe a considerable degree of protection against the omicron variant if in fact it starts to take hold in a dominant way in this country,” Fauci told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

When Tapper pointed out that hospitalizations are not increasing rapidly in South Africa, where omicron was first reported last month, despite what appears to be a high degree of transmissibility, Fauci offered tempered optimism.

“It’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it,” he said. “Thus far it does not look like a great degree of severity to it, but we’ve really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to delta.

”While omicron has rightfully raised concerns, the delta variant, accounting for 99.9% of the 90,000 to 100,000 cases reported each day in the U.S., remains the main strain to contend with, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.

“To fight all forms of COVID, she recommended that people get vaccinations and boosters and wear masks in public indoor settings in the 80% of counties where there is high or substantial transmission of the disease. “We have so many more tools now than we did a year ago,” said Walensky, who favors mask recommendations over a national mandate.

“We know so many things that work against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, regardless of the variant that we’ve seen before.”Contributing: Katie WadingtonAlso in the news:

►Starting Monday, vaccinated travelers from other countries coming into the U.S. will have to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of departure.

►Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, Wisconsin, Missouri and Louisiana reported their first cases of the omicron variant, according to their state health departments.

►Ten people aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Breakaway tested positive for COVID-19 as it was approaching its return to New Orleans. Company officials said none of the infected persons had symptoms.

►More than 6% of the Air National Guard and Reserve did not meet the deadline to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Air Force.

►The FDA authorized monoclonal antibody treatments made by Eli Lilly for pediatric patients under 12 years old who have underlying conditions that make them high-risk for serious infection.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 49 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 788,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 265.6 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. More than 198 million Americans – roughly 59.8% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

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