Hogan outlines omicron variant preparedness

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan outlined preparation plans in the state for the omicron variant of COVID-19 on Wednesday, urging people to get vaccinated and to get a booster shot if enough time has gone by since they have been vaccinated.

The governor spoke at a news conference not long after after the White House announced that a person in California who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 became the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the omicron variant.

“While there are still a great deal of unknowns about the omicron variant, our state will not wait to launch our preparedness efforts, and Marylanders shouldn’t wait either,” Hogan said.

The state’s Board of Public Works approved an emergency procurement Wednesday to acquire additional special reagents and supplies to further expand the state’s capacity to track and detect variants of COVID-19.

The board also voted to extend the state’s genomic sequencing agreements to track various mutations of the coronavirus with the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. Through agreements with the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, Maryland is now sequencing at nearly three times the level recommended by public health experts, the governor’s office said.

Maryland is making rapid antigen tests available at Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the governor said. The state’s health department and transportation department will immediately make rapid antigen tests available at the international terminal for the nearly 7,000 international passengers who arrive each week.

Last week, Maryland made another 500,000 Abbott BinaxNow Ag At-Home COVID-19 test kits available across the state, including local health departments, libraries, and community centers, according to the governor’s office.

“The way we can detect variants is through more people getting tested,” Hogan said. “Getting tested remains one of the most important things that you can do to protect yourself, your family and your fellow Marylanders.”

Coronavirus testing remains widely available at more than 300 locations across Maryland. Locations can be found on covidtest.maryland.gov.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious than previous strains, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.

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