Holiday travel season sees new worries with omicron variant

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- New worries are looming over the holiday travel season as the omicron variant of COVID-19 begins to take hold in the United States.

Already there have been cases of the variant reported in Los Angeles and other parts of California. Still, health officials say delta remains the most prevalent and worrisome of the COVID-19 variants.

With that in mind, travelers are reminded that testing is more important than ever.

For anyone visiting or returning to the United States from abroad, the Biden administration is now requiring all international incoming passengers to have a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding a flight.

Many foreign destinations also have similar requirements.

At Los Angeles International Airport, international travelers are taking advantage of free, rapid COVID-19 tests offered by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

LAX offering COVID testing for travelers coming in from countries reporting omicron variant cases
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The Los Angeles International Airport has launched a rapid COVID-19 testing site as L.A. County reports its first case of the omicron variant.



"I think it's honestly beneficial to have that," said Ivana, a traveler heading to Sweden.

Testing before boarding her flight to Sweden gives her peace of mind. The voluntary testing service at the Tom Bradley International Terminal started Friday.

"People will be able to get their results before they leave the airport," said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. "I think that provides security to them as well that they know they can go ahead ahead and gather with the people they were planning to gather with."

County health officials confirmed on Thursday that at least one Angeleno has tested positive for the omicron variant after returning from South Africa via London. The good news is the Los Angeles case is in a person who is fully vaccinated and is recovering without need of serious medical care, officials say.

The first U.S. case was reported earlier this week in the Bay Area.

At least 11 states have now reported cases of the omicron variant since it was first identified as a new public-health concern last month.

"Some have mild disease, some may have more severe disease," says CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. "Many of them are vaccinated. And what we're seeing now is that many of the people with mild disease were the vaccinated people."

It will be at least two weeks before we know the true threat of the omicron variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci says early data show the current vaccines, especially once boosted, can offer protection.

"There's every reason to believe that if you get vaccinated and boosted that you would have at least some degree of cross-protection, very likely against severe disease, even against the omicron variant," Fauci says.

For now the message from health experts is: It's better to be vaccinated than not. And as the holidays approach, testing at airports and at home will play an important role in slowing the transmission of any variant.

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