Bay Area prepares for omicron as CDC considers tightening testing restrictions for foreign travelers

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the world awaits more answers about the newly discovered omicron variant, officials both nationally and here in the Bay Area say they aren't wasting any time.

Speaking during a press briefing on Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rachelle Walensky said the U.S. is considering stricter testing requirements for foreign travelers.

"CDC is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantine," Walensky said.

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San Francisco International Airport is one of four airports already participating in a pilot testing program for international travelers.

"It invites them to participate in one of two different types of tests. One is what is called a pulled PCR test, and then the other is an individual, at-home test kit," said SFO spokesperson, Doug Yakel.

Currently, the program is voluntary, and run in conjunction with the CDC.

Launched back in October, its goal is to discover new COVID-19 variants in arriving passengers.

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As of this past weekend, it will also be looking specifically for those infected with the omicron variant.

"We're actually finding that SFO has the highest level of participation of any of the airports that are currently doing this pilot test program," Yakel said.

The new variant has also caught the attention of San Francisco leaders, like Mayor London Breed.

Speaking at an event on Tuesday, Breed said the city is working with health authorities around the country.

"Sadly what it means is some of the requirements that we have in place, that we were planning to relax, we probably won't be able to relax right away," Breed said.

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It's a similar story in the North Bay as well.

Marin County recently got rid of its mask mandate as cases eased and vaccination rates soared.

And while health officials there say there are still too many unknowns to make any decisions about reversing that decision, it is something that remains on the table.

"We have good systems in place to monitor case rates, monitor hospitalizations, monitor the emergence of that variant if it occurs in our area. And those will be the factors we're looking at to guide that decision," said Marin County Public Health Officer, Dr. Matt Willis.

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