U.S. Governors Respond to Omicron Variant


Governors across the United States tried to reassure Americans on Sunday that their administrations were closely monitoring the impact of a new coronavirus variant that has alarmed scientists.

Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut issued a statement on Sunday reminding his constituents to remain vigilant even though the new variant, known as Omicron, had yet to be detected in the United States.

“Given the number of countries where Omicron has already been detected, it may already be present in the U.S.,” he said in the statement.

Other state leaders took the same tone, urging caution as well as highlighting the measures they had already put in place earlier in the pandemic. Mr. Lamont pointed to the network of labs sequencing genomes in his state and reminded residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

Next door in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency on Friday. Under her executive order, all state agencies are authorized “to take appropriate action to assist local governments and individuals” in containing and responding to the coronavirus. Although the measures are a far cry from early pandemic rules, they were the nation’s first attempt to accelerate preparation for the arrival of the Omicron variant.

“We continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming,” Ms. Hochul said in a release.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said on Twitter on Sunday that the state was monitoring the new variant. He did not announce any new measures but said that the coronavirus vaccine and booster shot were essential.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health echoed that message and said in a statement, “More studies are needed to determine whether the Omicron variant is more contagious, more deadly or resistant to vaccine and treatments than other Covid-19 strains.” The department added that people in Los Angeles should adhere to existing mask requirements.

“While we are still learning much about Omicron, we know enough about Covid to take steps now that can reduce transmission as we prepare to better understand the additional strategies that may needed to mitigate this new variant of concerns,” the statement said.

Health leaders in the United States have said that it is all but inevitable that the variant will reach the country and called this a time for caution but not panic.

“We’re going to get better information about this,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “But there’s no reason to panic. But it is a great reason to go get boosted.”

Some leaders sought to reassure residents. Gov. Dan McKee of Rhode Island said that its health department was not aware of any cases in the state linked to the variant, although he said that the state would continue to be on the lookout.

“The best way to keep RI safe: Get vaccinated. Get your booster,” he said on Twitter.

On Sunday, his office issued a statement saying that the state’s health laboratories already perform genomic surveillance on samples, “which would identify the Omicron variant.”

Two governors of more conservative states addressed concerns about the variant, too, but maintained their position that vaccine mandates were off the table for now.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said on “State of the Union” that while a new variant “is a great concern,” encouraging vaccinations would work better than forcing them.

Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi made similar statements on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We’re certainly monitoring this new variant,” he said. “We don’t have all the data that we need to make decisions at this time.”





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