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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The emergence of the new omicron variant of COVID-19 has the attention of public health officials everywhere.

That’s certainly true for health care providers in the Kansas City area, as well as passengers traveling to and from Kansas City International Airport, since new travel restrictions will affect airline travelers in the coming weeks.

Dr. Rex Archer, who recently retired as director of the Kansas City Health Department, is now on the teaching staff at Kansas City University. Archer said viruses like coronavirus are prone to mutate, and the longer the unvaccinated avoid their shots, the longer COVID and its variants can hang around.

“Chances are this virus is already somewhere in this country,” Archer said Friday. “There is a chance there might be more breakthrough infections. The more we can slow it down, the more we can learn about it, the more we can find out if it needs a different kind of treatment a little than the other coronaviruses.”

Archer supports travel restrictions mandated by President Joe Biden on Friday, limiting travel to seven nations on the southern African continent, all of which have shown patients infected by Omicron. Those restrictions will begin on Monday.

On Friday afternoon, passengers at KCI Airport expressed varied levels of concern, just hours after word of the new COVID variant and Biden’s restrictions began to spread.

“I definitely keep my mask on all the time while I’m traveling in the airport,” Michael Horn, a passenger from Kansas City, said.

“I could see it being a problem for people trying to travel because of the restrictions they’re trying to put on. Hopefully, it wasn’t as bad as it was before,” Alex Rios, a passenger hailing from Houston, said.

“When it’s our time to go, it’s our time to go. I don’t care if you have a mask or not, but I think we should do our due diligence in protecting ourselves against all this stuff,” Brian LaRose, a passenger from Iowa, said.

Archer said passengers who insist on international travel, especially to southern Africa, should quarantine for 14 days when they return. He and other public health officials continue to recommend masks for travelers since its possible to come into contact with carriers in busy airports.

Archer compared this development to the emergence of the delta variant, when there were small numbers of breakthrough infections among vaccinated patients, but more people who’d received their inoculations didn’t have severe COVID symptoms.