New COVID-19 omicron variant ‘not a cause for panic,’ Biden says

By: - November 29, 2021 2:45 pm

President Joe Biden walks past draped America flags along the Colonnade of the White House, Monday, November 15, 2021. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden sought to reassure Americans on Monday about the latest COVID-19 variant, describing it as “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”

Biden did not announce any new travel restrictions or other federal actions during his brief remarks from the White House.

Instead, he urged Americans to get a booster shot to increase their immunity against COVID-19 — and to be patient while scientists gather more data on what exactly the new omicron variant will mean.

“We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists and we’re learning more every single day,” Biden said. “We’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.”

The White House already had restricted travel from eight nations, including South Africa, which first identified the new variant.

Other countries also have restricted travel as cases involving the new variant have been detected in a growing number of countries, including Canada and parts of Europe.

So far, U.S. public health officials say they believe the current COVID-19 vaccines will provide protection against the new variant. But it likely will take several weeks to gather data on how the mutations in the new variant make it easier to transmit or cause more serious disease.

Biden said his administration will share the information it gathers “candidly and promptly.” He also said that top health officials are working with the three authorized vaccine manufacturers to ensure they are preparing in case they need to tweak their products to adapt to the variant.

The president also said he will be announcing on Thursday a detailed strategy for fighting the  COVID-19 pandemic throughout the winter, including more widespread vaccinations, boosters and testing.

“We have moved forward in the face of the delta variant,” Biden said, referencing the variant that caused a surge in infections over the summer. “And we move forward now in the face of the omicron variant as well.”

The Virginia Department of Health offices in Richmond. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For The Virginia Mercury)

In a news release late Monday afternoon, the Virginia Department of Health said it is “closely monitoring” the omicron variant, though it added that new variants are expected and that it could be detected soon in the U.S. and Virginia.

“Once again, we see how unpredictable viruses can be. Viruses change and mutate all the time, and as we learn more about this new variant, we need to continue taking precautions to reduce infections,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver. “We all want this pandemic to end. Please, if you haven’t been vaccinated already and are eligible, get vaccinated. And if you are eligible for a booster, please get your booster as soon as you can. Please continue to do those things that we know can help reduce virus transmission, such as wearing a face mask, social distancing, frequent hand washing, staying home if you are sick, and getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms or if you have had a known exposure to someone with COVID-19.”

Dr. Denise Toney, the director of the state’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, said the state has a “robust genetic sequencing program to determine quickly whether variants of concern are circulating in our communities” and that labs are trying to sequence as many positive samples as possible.

This post has been updated to add comments from the Virginia Department of Health. 

Mercury Editor Robert Zullo contributed.

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Virginia Mercury. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.

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