This Week in COVID-19: Travel Ban Updates, Omicron Uncertainty, and New Vaccine Mandates


COVID-19 updates and news to know as of December 6, 2021.

As of December 6, 2021, there have been 49,002,475 COVID-19 cases in the United States. In the last 7 days, there have been 726,766 new cases identified. (CDC)

The first case of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant was detected in the United States in San Francisco, California, in an individual who recently returned from travels in South Africa, according to the CDC. (CDC)

Since then, the Omicron variant has been identified in nearly one-third of US states, as of December 5. (Reuters)

CDC director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, emphasized to ABC News that, although COVID-19 case counts are anticipated to rise in light of the new variant, Delta is still the primary variant of concern, with thousands of new cases being diagnosed each day. (ABC News)

In the same segment, Walensky told ABC anchor Martha Raddatz that “What we don’t yet know is how transmissible [Omicron] will be, how well our vaccines will work, [or] whether it will lead to more severe disease.” (ABC News)

In a 13-10 vote, the FDA “narrowly “endorsed Merck’s oral COVID-19 treatment, molnupiravir, an oral antiviral drug for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms at high risk for severe disease. Despite this approval, members of the FDA Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee feel that there are still numerous unanswered questions about the safety and efficacy of the treatment. (CNBC)

For pediatric patients, the FDA revised their emergency use authorization of bamlanibimab and etesivimab, allowing the treatment to be administered together for mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms in all pediatric patients—including newborns—who are positive for COVID-19 and who have a high risk for progression to severe disease. The EUA amendment also allows bamlanivimab and etesevimab to be used as post-exposure prophylaxis in those with a high risk of progression to severe COVID-19. (FDA)

In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced a “sweeping” COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all private employers as preemptive measure to combat the spread of the Omicron variant. The measure goes into effect on December 27, 2021. Under the new mandate, in-person employees at private companies must receive at least 1 COVID-19 vaccine dose by this date; no alternative testing option is available, according to the New York Times. (New York Times).

On a federal level, the Biden Administration has experienced a “string of setbacks,” according to CNN, in the courts, where his COVID-19 vaccine mandate has been challenged. As of last week, requirements that employees of large companies be either vaccinated or tested weekly remain on hold. (CNN)

Data from a small study, conducted by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, show that a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine booster led to the creation of twice as many T-cells as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine among 65 participants in the small study. The study was funded in part by Johnson & Johnson and has not yet been published. (New York Times, MedRxIV)

As of December 3, all travelers flying to the United States must be tested within 1 day of their flight in order to enter the country. This requirement follows the Biden Administration ban on travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, and Zimbabwe; federal health officials are currently evaluating the ban daily. (Washington Post)

Check back next Monday for the latest updates and COVID-19 news you need to know.

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