ATLANTA (WFLA) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is keeping an eye on the emergence of a new, highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 identified in South Africa.
The CDC said that “if” this variant — known as the omicron variant — emerges in the U.S., it is expected to be identified “quickly.”
“No cases of this variant have been identified in the U.S. to date,” the CDC wrote in a statement issued Friday. “CDC is following the details of this new variant, first reported to the WHO by South Africa. We are grateful to the South African government and its scientists, who have openly communicated with the global scientific community and continue to share information about this variant with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CDC. We are working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more about this variant, as we continue to monitor its path.
“CDC is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in this country. We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.”
The CDC made the announcement shortly after the World Health Organization classified the omicron variant, or B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern.” Health experts say the variant’s mutated properties allowed it to spread quickly among younger individuals, causing COVID-19 levels in South Africa to spike rapidly after a period of low growth.
Such concerns pushed the United States and European Union to enact a travel ban from South Africa and other nations to contain the virus. However, experts say these bans won’t stop the virus from reaching the West.
“Travel restrictions can delay but not prevent the spread of a highly transmissible variant,” said Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh, in a report by the Associated Press.
In the meantime, the CDC continues to urge mask-wearing, social distancing, and vaccinations to protect against COVID-19 variants.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.