Hartsfield Jackson International, others expand COVID-19 bio-surveillance to detect Omicron variant

Coronavirus

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

(WJBF) – Four U.S. airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International, will expand their COVID-19 bio-surveillance program to detect the new Omicron variant.

The program tests passengers entering the United States from Southern Africa, as well as those making connecting flights through Europe.

John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark-Liberty International Airport and San Francisco International Airport began taking part in the bio-surveillance program in September, providing testing for passengers arriving to the U.S. from India.

What does bio-surveillance entail?

The program is a joint effort between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and XpresCheck and Ginkgo Bioworks.

Two types of testing options are in use for the program.

One is a PCR test (a nose or throat swab) done at the airport upon passenger arrival. This is a pooled test, meaning several passenger samples are combined and tested as a group.

The other test is an at-home collection kit, in which the passenger takes the test home, collects a sample and mails it off within three to five days of arrival.

The CDC is strongly recommending that international travelers get tested in that time frame.

Travel ban implemented

On Saturday, The White House announced travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries in the region beginning November 29 due to the Omicron variant.

Last week, the CDC issued a statement on the Omicron variant, stating, “We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.”

As of Tuesday, there have been no reported cases of the Omicron variant in Georgia.

Georgia Department of Public Health officials continue to urge residents to get vaccinated, as that can prevent the virus from mutating and stop the emergence of new variants.

Cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany and the U.K.

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