The world has officially entered 2022, and with that, and we're nearing the two-year mark into the pandemic.
The new year could bring new developments in vaccines and health policy, but the global story now is all about variants - because just when some thought things were starting to get "back to normal," Omicron had other plans.
It was first identified in South Africa in late Nov. and by Dec. 1, it was confirmed that Omicron had made its way to the U.S.
"The California and San Francisco departments of Public Health and the CDC have confirmed that a recent case of COVID-19 among an individual in California was caused by the omicron variant," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said.
Within the last month, COVID cases have rapidly increased across the country and in response to this, some new policies have been put in place. While cities like New York City and San Francisco have had vaccine mandates in place for months, places like DC, Boston, Chicago, and others are starting to implement vaccine mandates for indoor dining, gyms, theaters and other entertainment venues.
New York City took their mandate a step further. In addition to requiring public sector employees be vaccinated the city is now asking private sector businesses to require it for their employees as well.
"The reason the city keeps going, the reason we are open when some other places are shut down is because of our focus on vaccination, because we use mandates and incentives," Mayor Bill de Blasio, (D) NY, said. "We got to double down because one thing we can all agree, and I've talked a lot of business leaders about this, COVID is bad for humans, it's bad for our health, but it's also bad for business."
And even what it means to be fully vaccinated is shifting. 205 million people in the U.S. have received two doses Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of J&J, but only 33% of those people have gotten their booster.
During a recent White House COVID response team briefing, CDC director Rochelle Walensky was asked if the agency will change their definition of fully vaccinated to include being boosted.
"Our guidance right now is very clear. CDC recommends, strongly recommends, that people who are eligible for a booster go get a booster," Walensky said. "That is everyone above the ages of 16, boosting at greater than six months if you received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and of course greater than two months if you received the J&J vaccine. We're looking at the definition right now and more to come there but just to clear, are recommendations are to get boosted."
The FDA also expanded booster eligibility for kids ages 12 to 15, changed the recommended amount of time between the second Pfizer dose and the booster from 6 months to 5 months and is now allowing a third vaccine dose for kids ages 5 to 11 that are immuno-compromised.
So, what about getting tested? Many trying to find a test before the holidays couldn't.
President Biden announced starting this month the White House is prepared to ship out as many as 500 million at-home COVID test kits, in addition to expanding free COVID test sites across the country.
And there’s some good news with new COVID treatments as well: the FDA has authorized two COVID pills aimed at treating those with severe symptoms with the goal of decreasing hospitalizations. The White House COVID response team says they have purchased 10 million treatment courses of the Pfizer pill and 3 million of the Merck pill.
"It is obviously a very difficult situation when you have a limited supply," Dr. Fauci said. "For that reason, we've asked the NIH guidelines committee to put together a recommendation of when someone comes in with an acute infection and is in a risk group... that we would have a prioritization of what the best approach would be."
The CDC’s new quarantine guidance has made its way around social media. People were pretty confused when the agency changed the quarantine period from 10 days to five, with varying guidance for asymptomatic people and people experiencing symptoms.
Even before that news, we were already seeing return to office plans change, colleges delay their spring semesters some grade schools are going virtual, sporting events and flights being canceled - similar to the start of the pandemic.
But as more is learned about COVID and the world adopts more widespread testing and tests out new treatments, 2022 could very well be a year of progress in this pandemic — both for public health and for policy.
"Are we through the pandemic? No, we're not. But we are in a very different place than we were one year ago," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.