Omicron Variant

Here's How the US Plans to Fight Omicron Variant, Winter COVID Surge

Doctors are still waiting to learn more about how fast omicron spreads and if it causes more severe disease

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Plans for combating COVID-19 this winter are set to be released by the Biden Administration today. Here’s how it could impact Massachusetts.

President Joe Biden is expected to extend a mask mandate on all public transportation Thursday through mid-March as the first case of the new omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected in the United States.

He also wants inbound international passengers to take a COVID test within 24 hours of departure and plans to increase the availability of free at-home rapid tests.

Local doctors say there is something you can do right now to protect yourself from the new variant, which was first detected in South Africa -- get a booster.

"We do see people having waning immunity over the course of five or six months and getting a booster is going to give your immune system a real kick to really remember how to fight this virus so that you get lots of extra antibodies in your system to prevent you from getting seriously ill," said Dr. Richard Ellison of UMass Memorial Medical Center.

Doctors are still waiting to learn more about how fast omicron spreads and if it causes more severe disease. 

The variant was detected Wednesday in the U.S. in a person who had traveled from South Africa to San Francisco. Health officials do say the person was fully vaccinated and has only mild symptoms.

COVID-19 cases were on the rise here in Massachusetts even before the new variant was discovered. There were over 4,800 new cases reported on Wednesday, the highest since January, with more than 950 in the hospital.

The positivity rate is now over 5%.

Doctors say the best thing you can do is to get vaccinated and get a third dose if you're able.

"All of the measures that we've been recommending so far are still applicable," said Dr. Sabrina Assoumou of Boston Medical Center. "Get vaccinated, wear a mask when you're in indoor public settings and see if you can improve ventilation, and also use testing."

Three top Boston doctors explain what the new omicron variant is, whether it's already in the U.S., what the symptoms are and if vaccines protect against it on the weekly “COVID Q&A” series.