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Passengers check in at the Lufthansa counter at Johannesburg's OR Tambo airport, Monday Nov. 29, 2021. The World Health Organization urged countries around the world not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concern over the new omicron variant. Jerome Delay/AP hide caption

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Jerome Delay/AP

Omicron's Arrival Is 'Wake-Up Call' That The Pandemic Is Ongoing

The coronavirus is still circulating and mutating — case in point, the World Health Organization has designated a new variant of concern, called omicron. The variant appears to have some characteristics that may make it more transmissible than others, but much about it is still unknown. NPR health correspondent Allison Aubrey talks with Emily Kwong about how researchers and public health experts are racing to learn all they can about it — including how transmissible it actually is and how it responds to current vaccines. They also talk travel bans, a weak tool in preventing viral spread that may even penalize information sharing.

Omicron's Arrival Is 'Wake-Up Call' That The Pandemic Is Ongoing

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Three generations, (from left to right) grandmother Genoveva Calloway, daughter Petra Gonzales, and granddaughter Vanesa Quintero, live next door to each other in San Pablo, Calif. Recently their extended family was hit with a second wave of COVID infections a year after the first. Beth LaBerge/KQED hide caption

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Beth LaBerge/KQED

COVID hit 13 members of their family the first time. A year later it struck again

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While a thermometer will tell you if oil is hot enough for frying, scientists say the sound a wet chopstick makes when dipped into the oil will, too. Jason Kempin/Getty Images hide caption

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Jason Kempin/Getty Images

How do you know if your oil is hot enough to deep fry? Use your ears

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After two student suicides over one October weekend, UNC students created a makeshift memorial on the Chapel Hill campus. To reduce the risk of suicide contagion, any memorial sites or activities should be limited, experts say, and should not glorify, vilify or stigmatize the deceased student or their death. Ira Wilder/Daily Tar Heel hide caption

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Ira Wilder/Daily Tar Heel
Eugene Mymrin/Getty Images

New clues to the biology of long COVID are starting to emerge

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Medicare Advantage health plans have enrolled nearly 27 million members, or about 45% of people eligible for Medicare. A recent analysis finds Medicare overpaid the private health plans by more than $106 billion from 2010 through 2019 because of the way the plans charge for sicker patients. Innocenti/Image Source/Getty Images hide caption

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Innocenti/Image Source/Getty Images

Researchers are studying athletes and military personnel to learn more about how a concussion can affect the brain's ability to understand sound. Callista Images/Image Source/Getty Images hide caption

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Callista Images/Image Source/Getty Images

After a concussion, the brain may no longer make sense of sounds

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Scientists investigate a humpback whale by boat and by drone in the surface waters near the west Antarctic Peninsula. Duke University Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab under NOAA permit 14809-03 and ACA permits 2015-011 and 2020-016 hide caption

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Duke University Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab under NOAA permit 14809-03 and ACA permits 2015-011 and 2020-016

The biggest whales can eat the equivalent of 80,000 Big Macs in one day

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Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for young children is a lower-dose formulation of the companies' adult vaccine. It was found to be safe and nearly 91% effective at preventing COVID-19. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty hide caption

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Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

A dry landscape pictured on Navajo Nation is seen in the town of Gallup, N.M., in June 2019. New research says the near-total loss of tribal lands in the U.S. has left Indigenous people more vulnerable to climate change. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A Kenyan mother and her two children sit on their bed under a mosquito net used to prevent malaria. Wendy Stone/Corbis via Getty Images hide caption

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Wendy Stone/Corbis via Getty Images

Every state except Hawaii and Arizona currently observes daylight saving time. But each year, more states say it's time to stop futzing with the clock and embrace daylight saving time year-round. Anna Blazhuk/Getty Images hide caption

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Anna Blazhuk/Getty Images

Ari Blank got a comforting hand-squeeze from his mom in May as he was vaccinated against COVID-19 in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. This week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of Pfizer's vaccine in even younger kids — ages 5 to 11. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

When confronted with a spider-like 3-D model, jumping spiders freeze and back away slowly, especially if the model has eyes. Daniela Roessler hide caption

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Daniela Roessler

In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower on Aug. 10, 2021, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. NASA/NASA via Getty Images hide caption

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NASA/NASA via Getty Images

Los Angeles International Airport and SoFi Stadium employers spoke with potential job applicants at a job fair in Inglewood, Calif., in September. About 19% of all households in an NPR poll say they lost all their savings during the COVID-19 outbreak, and have none to fall back on. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Black and Latino families continue to bear pandemic's great economic toll in U.S.

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Former science teacher Berna Gómez played a pivotal role in new research on restoring some sight to blind people. She is named as a co-author of the study that was published this week. Moran Eye Center, the University of Utah hide caption

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Moran Eye Center, the University of Utah

Erica Cuellar, her husband and her daughter moved in with her father in his home early in the pandemic, after she lost her job. She and her husband were worried they wouldn't be able to afford the rent on their house in Houston with only one income. In July 2020, the whole family tested positive for the coronavirus. Michael Starghill for NPR hide caption

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Michael Starghill for NPR

In this September 2021 photo provided by NYU Langone Health, a surgical team at the hospital in New York examines a pig kidney attached to the body of a deceased recipient for any signs of rejection. The test was a step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants. Joe Carrotta/AP hide caption

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Joe Carrotta/AP