The Omicron variant, first discovered in South Africa in November, is “likely” already in Florida, a health expert said.

The B.1.1.529 variant is believed to be more transmissible and less susceptible to existing COVID-19 vaccines compared to the Delta variant. As of Tuesday, the Omicron variant has been detected in 20 countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada.

While health officials have yet to confirm a case of the Omicron variant in the United States, Dr. Jason Wilson of Tampa General Hospital said the variant is most likely in Florida. 

“The variant is likely here,” Wilson told 8 On Your Side, adding, “I think it’s really important here to just pause for a minute and recognize the vaccines are still very likely to work very well.”

Top federal health officials in the U.S. are now expanding a surveillance program at four airports across the country, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International, John F. Kennedy New York, Newark and San Francisco. 

“This program allows for increased Covid testing for specific international arrivals, increasing our capacity to identify those with Covid-19 on arrival to the United States,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a White House news conference.

Walensky also said that 99.9% of COVID-19 samples sequenced in the country still show the Delta variant as the dominating coronavirus strain. 

During the news conference, the press also asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki whether the Biden administration would consider imposing travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, which reported a total of six cases of the Omicron variant.

Psaki said the decisions on whether the government will tighten travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada would be based on the recommendations given by the president’s advisers, who she noted have yet to recommend restrictions, according to The New York Times.

The White House last week restricted travel for non-U.S. citizens from South Africa and seven other countries, including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. It is unclear how long the restrictions will remain in place.

face-mask-5024710_1920 Representation. The unnamed lottery winner was a frontline nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Pixabay