As the first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant was reported in the United States, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, cast the detection as a reason for Americans to get vaccinated or boosters and said that public health recommendations had not changed in the presence of the fast-spreading variant.
“We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of Omicron would be detected in the United States,” Dr. Fauci said.
The patient, a traveler who returned to California from South Africa on Nov. 22, is in isolation, and aggressive contact tracing is underway, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The individual was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said the person had received two doses of the Moderna vaccine but was within the six-month window and had thus not received a booster.
Dr. Fauci said he did not necessarily favor vaccine requirements for domestic air travelers, preferring instead to push to inoculate the remaining unvaccinated people in the country.
He said he was “not so sure” that new testing requirements for international travelers that administration officials are currently weighing would have helped catch the case sooner — because the patient took a test immediately after beginning to experience what he described as mild symptoms. And he said it was possible that in the future, the federal government could change its definition of “fully vaccinated” to require international travelers to have received booster shots before entering the United States.
Dr. Fauci stressed the additional protection that booster shots provide across variants of the virus and said Americans should not wait for pharmaceutical companies to develop a booster shoot designed for Omicron.
“Get boosted now,” Dr. Fauci said. “We may not need a variant-specific boost.”
Asked if Americans should feel free to attend holiday parties and drink holiday beverages unmasked, he said it depended on the size of the gathering.
“In a situation with the holiday season, indoor-type settings with family that you know is vaccinated, people that you know, you could feel safe with not wearing a mask and having a dinner, having a reception,” he said. But in larger public settings where it is unclear if everyone is vaccinated, he said, people should wear masks except to eat or drink.
Jill Cowan contributed reporting.
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