Concrete and Cardinals

Scott Turner’s brief articles in The Providence Journal always provided welcome glimpses of natural landscapes. Beauty in the Street – Nature Tales from the Neighborhood collects many of these, as well as other reminiscences of Turner’s life and its intersections with the natural world in Rhode Island, Seekonk, and the Bronx. It’s not a book that you’ll read cover to cover. Instead enjoy a snippet here and there; the timeline is fragmented. One piece titled, “Sitting with Several Species of Butterfly,” dated 2012, begins, “On a sunny Sunday afternoon in summer, I lazed on a lounge chair in the shade of a red maple…” The next piece is three years later in Seekonk, finding Turner standing “in amazement before a dolphin, which surfaced less than 10 feet away, exhaling in a loud, sighing hiss from its blowhole.” This is a collection of essays to dip into on a cold day, or when it’s raining outside, or when you need a smile to connect you with birds and the water, the air and the wind. Beauty in the Street – Nature Tales from the Neighborhood by Scott Turner, available on Amazon and at Stillwater Books.

Where the Benny’s Used To Be: A Rhode Island Pictorial History Series

Rhode Island Memories is a three volume coffee table book published by The Providence Journal that serves as a pictorial history of this state. With photos beginning in the late 1800s and proceeding through the end of the 20th century, this book archives the many transformations Rhode Island has gone through. Featuring photographs from award-winning and nationally recognized photographers, historical societies (both regional and national) and family pictures, this collection is an authentic representation of this state and its inhabitants. 

Volume I: The Early Years — A Pictorial History has photographs from the 1850s through the end of the 1930s, with a focus on the Hurricane of 1938. Take the time to look at each picture, and you will see how the state was built or rebuilt after natural disasters. It’s fun to see which buildings are still here today and which businesses have come and gone. Of course, transportation changed drastically, from horse-drawn carriages and boats to trains and  automobiles. Paging through this book is like looking through a time capsule from a long forgotten era. This is the standout of the three books. It’s a history not often seen.

Volume II: The 1940s & 1950s shows Rhode Island modernizing itself in the post World War 2 period. While there is less focus on infrastructure, the emergence of cars in society is well documented. This book showcases the fun people had during those times. There were a lot of sports, concerts and community events that took place. A surprising number of national politicians visited and campaigned in the state, which seems odd in today’s world where a Presidential visit in Rhode Island is nearly unheard of (and somewhat of a traffic nuisance when it happens).

Volume III: From Turmoil to the Providence Renaissance: The 1960s Through the 1990s shows a time that is less interesting, because it has already been well documented. This book has everything expected from that time period: the Kennedys, Salty Brine, the longest baseball game ever, Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, the Blizzard of ’78 and the building of the Providence Place Mall. It does well highlighting pictures of events younger people have only heard about.

Each book begins with a letter from former Providence Journal Executive Editor Alan Rosenberg and an introduction from Director of Photography & Graphics Michael Delaney. Chapters each have a brief introduction, and every picture features a brief but detailed description, along with the date (or year) it was taken. 

Interestingly,  the photographs are printed in black and white until the 1990s chapter. The business profile of the Providence Journal reports that they didn’t start publishing color photographs until 1987, when they opened  a new printing plant and switched to a process called flexography. While this is logical, and it would have been difficult to color over 100 years of photographs, colors would have added to the experience of Rhode Island’s history. 

I had fun paging through the visual history of the State of Rhode Island. The many structural changes are interesting, but the pictures of people are  truly wonderful to view. Rhode Islanders’ interests haven’t changed all that much in over a hundred years, whether it be shopping, sightseeing, enjoying nature, working or helping out their community. While the environment and styles are drastically different from year to year, the expressions, joy and camaraderie of the individuals pictured are engagingly familiar.  

You can purchase Rhode Island Memories Vol. I, II, and III through the publisher at pediment.com. 

Stand Up Gifts: A Wrap Challenge

Last year, my sister sent me two pairs of plastic gloves, two plastic face shields and a travel-sized container of Lysol wipes – was this a gag gift? My daughter and I most definitely laughed when we opened all this, wrapped, mind you, in lovely holiday paper. Truth was, my sister was concerned that I was taking my daughter out to a restaurant for Christmas dinner. That was 2020.

A year later, the pandemic is calming down and we are all getting invited to proper holiday gatherings again: office parties, family reunions, dances and neighborhood open houses. And with all these parties come the traditions of secret Santa, white elephant swaps, and of course gag gifts.  

The right gag gift is often harder to find than a sincere gift; it works best if it pokes fun with some respect, some love, with recognition of the recipient’s talents. It also works best if the recipient has a sense of humor. Who better to deliver a gag gift to than a comedian?

What the FUD? 

Local comedian Doreen Collins is the first (and only) female inducted into the RI Comedy Hall of Fame. One year a friend gave her a FUD (that’s short for a female urination device). She laughed, saying, “if I’m gonna hang with the big boys, why not pee like one?!” You go girl! One brand of FUD is even named, “Stand-up.”

 Doreen Collins with her pretty and pink FUD. 

The Great Fortune Cookie Crapshoot

Of course, a gag gift doesn’t have to have a specific intention. It can just be surprising and odd. One year, when he was about 19, local comedian Brad Pierce got just that. His friends chipped in and bought him a toilet. And then his friends bought him a huge box of fortune cookies. Suddenly flush with good fortunes, he kept that toilet in his bedroom at his parent’s house and filled it with the cookies, like a giant cookie jar or candy dish. Eventually, when Brad moved out to get married, the toilet was repurposed and used as the chair from which he co-hosted a public access show. There is a gag gift that just kept on giving! 

Brad Pierce

No Shit?

No story on gag gifts would be complete without noting the anonymous gag gift. That would be when the recipient is intended, but the giver is in hiding. 

Several years ago, while local comedian Joanna Rapoza was living in Connecticut, a local paper ran an advertisement for a comedy open mic she was starting. Her old email was provided as contact information, and it had the word “moose” in it. The first night the open mic was to occur, an anonymous (annonymoose?) gift was left for her at the venue – matching earrings and a necklace made of petrified moose poop! 

So if you’re looking for the perfect gag gift for a friend or co-worker, try to think about who that person really is and what they can endure as humor. It can make the difference between a shitty gift, and a gift that’s the shit.

Joanna Rapoza, Comic and Co-Queen at Cachet Comedy

Designer Moose Poop Earrings, photo courtesy of Joanna Rapoza

Some places to buy gag gifts:

Spencer Gifts is everybody’s favorite spot for fake dog poo, and that set of matching brass balls. Visit at the Providence Place Mall, 1 Providence Place, PVD.

Imagine Gift Store in Warren is locally owned. It’s a small mall with an entire department of joke gifts. 5 Miller St, Warren.

Frog and Toad is known for its compact but robust selection of jokes and sarcasm, from magnets to aprons. 795 Hope St, PVD.

Pleasant Surprise, where venerated OOP used to be, has a pleasant selection of jokes, jabs and local references for your humor-supportive friends and family. 297 Thayer St, PVD.

No More Waffling: Forever a Burgundian

Someone who loves food and drink, in both quality and quantity, shared among good company: this not only describes who I am as a person, but it also defines a “Burgundian.” The word evokes a sense of adventure without hurry, of travel without leaving your hometown; although for Shane Matlock, the owner of Burgundian, this way of life was introduced to him in France, where he was stationed while serving in the US Army. He later worked for Collette Tours, where he discovered the street food culture of Latin America. All of these culinary influences – from coffee and waffles in Belgium to street food in Peru and Argentina – can be found at Matlock’s new brick-and-mortar location in Attleboro, MA.

The Burgundian, however, is not a new concept to grace our food scene. Exactly 202 weeks before their opening, (not that anyone’s counting) I tried my first Liège Belgian waffle at Bayberry Beer Hall, where Matlock and his trusty sidekick Brad “Waffle Boy” Lavoie were popping up in 2017. That day changed my life: I fell in love with a waffle. It was topped with coffee milk mascarpone whipped cream and an espresso fudge drizzle. My friend and I created a new hashtag that night, #waffleywedded, because we were so enamored with this magnificent creation. We returned for second helpings, checking the waffle makers’ left hands for wedding bands – love knows no limits – and asked, “Who are you? What voodoo magic do you possess? How can waffles taste this good?”

Even though Matlock is already married (you’re a lucky woman, Karen!), he let us in on the secret of his waffles, which I proudly touted henceforth as an unofficial Burgundian representative – Liège waffles are created from brioche-like dough instead of batter, which lends itself to a denser, almost buttery experience. The recipe also calls for pearl sugar, which are shaped into small clusters and caramelize when heated. Without a doubt, the Burgundian delivers the most superior waffles, surpassing all others in quality and taste, even in their unadulterated, topping-less form.

But ordering the plain waffle is a hard choice to make with so many sweet and savory options. The Fried Chicken and Waffles is a classic, and specials range from the Tuscan Waffle – a sun-dried tomato & basil Liège waffle served with Italian sausage – to a Christmas-themed Gingerbread Waffle, made from their own spice blend and fresh ginger, topped with orange-ginger caramel and fresh sugared cranberries. 

I was at one of their brewery pop-ups and asked for a combination of two of their waffle toppings (let’s just say sausage-gravy was involved). Another guest saw it and I talked it up, so they went up and ordered “The Jenny.” I felt like I’d truly made it.

Therefore, you can imagine my excitement when the Burgundian expanded their menu to include “well-travelled street food,” from Peruvian pork belly sandwiches to Filipino street noodle bowls. And finally, after four years of food truck events, brewery pop-ups, and food expo appearances, their storefront opened its doors in Attleboro, about 10 minutes north of Providence. 

Warm light beckons passersby through large, front-facing windows, and the inside is industrial yet classy: red brick walls, hardwood floors, exposed bulb chandeliers. The space feels open and inviting, with two corner nooks and a central dining area. It’s a seat-yourself affair, where you order at the counter and take a number – strikingly like Bayberry Beer Hall. Some of Rhode Island’s finest were in attendance that night, like David Dadekian of Eat Drink RI and his wife, Brenda; Robin Dionne of RI Veg Fest and her musician husband, Bernard; local artist Rachel Brask (whose artwork is featured on the walls of the restaurant) and her husband, Pete Hutchinson, an official Burgundian himself. Food and drink, in quality and quantity, shared among good company.

For the main course, my friends and I shared three entrees spanning three continents. First, a vegetarian Korean Jackfruit Sando, made with braised jackfruit, spicy Korean coleslaw, and pineapple salsa, served on a griddled brioche bun. It must be noted that not all jackfruit is created equal (or at least not marinated to its finest), but the Burgundian has mastered the texture and taste of this meat alternative. It was delicious. 

The second was a Mediterranean Chicken Shawarma Wrap, which tasted as if a Middle Eastern shawarma and a Greek gyro had a baby: creamy curry chicken, tzatziki, pickled red onions, olive tapenade and a roasted garlic aioli. It was no surprise to anyone that upon seeing “tzatziki,” I chose this as my personal pick. Finally: the Peruvian “Chicharron” Pork Belly Sando. One of Matlock’s favorites, it was the star of our night: Crispy pork belly, sweet potato mousse, Peruvian Aji Creole sauce, pickled red onions and chilies – I felt the heavens open and beckon me upward. It was rich and savory, tangy and sweet, a little spicy, and oh so satisfying. 

Despite being full, we couldn’t say no to the Rum Raisin Liège Waffle Bread Pudding (a la mode). I have no words, only the memory of sweet-buttery-caramel-rum-raisin goodness paired with contented hums and sighs and the sound of spoons scraping against the plate. This concluded an evening of a long-awaited grand debut. 

Rum Raisin Liège Waffle Bread Pudding

As I conclude this piece, I must also report my time here in Rhode Island is ending. I am moving to another state in the new year, and I’d like to say farewell to the faithful readers of Motif. Thank you for coming alongside me as I have journeyed through the food landscape in RI during the past eight years. The irony is that I’m leaving RI to get married – I’m becoming #waffleywedded! – but no matter where I find myself, I will always have a place in my heart for this wonderful, crazy hidden gem of a state we call Lil’ Rhody. Most importantly, and perhaps this goes without saying, I’ll forever be a Burgundian. I bid you all to do the same.

Burgundian, 55 Park Street, Attleboro, MA.



EcoRI News Roundup

From Superfund Site to Solar Farm

Nestled between Pontiac Avenue and the Pawtuxet River in Cranston, the Beacon Solar Project hosts 9,000 ground-mounted solar panels that can power 509 households. Subscribers to the community solar project are expected to save about 10 percent on their electric bills.

The 3.5-megawatt project is a joint venture between East Providence-based ISM Solar and Nautilus Solar Energy LLC of New Jersey.

The project represents a win for homeowners and solar developers alike. Solar construction is controversial, as residents often complain installations are eyesores, and environmentalists note the destruction of open space and forestland to site them. But the Pontiac Avenue array sits on top of an old landfill, a former Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site that is otherwise largely undevelopable.

A 2020 analysis funded by RI’s Office of Energy Resources showed a severe underuse of solar siting on already-developed sites. The report counted 404,594 solar-possible sites, such as rooftops, parking lots, landfills, brownfields, gravel pits, and other commercial or industrial parcels.

Preliminary data from the analysis showed RI could increase the megawatts generated by solar to 3,390 — 13 times higher than the 250 megawatts solar panels power now. Estimates in the analysis indicated using solar across the sites would displace 7.65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equaling 70 percent of the state’s current greenhouse-gas emissions.

Matunuck Oyster Bar Denied

A four-year tug-of-war between commercial aquaculture and some South Kingstown residents is nearly over. Members of a Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) subcommittee have recommended the council deny an application from Perry Raso, owner of the Matunuck Oyster Bar, to expand his Potter Pond oyster farm.

Raso originally applied in 2017 for 3 acres of additional oyster and bay scallop farming in the popular salt pond, claiming an increased demand for local shellfish. The application incited a flurry of complaints and action from neighbors.

The subcommittee’s Nov. 9 recommendation came down to the proposal’s impact on water-based activities. The subcommittee said the expansion would cut water-based activities by 23 percent, displacing them toward the center of the pond, an area where boats typically cluster, and increasing the risk of injury. Members also noted the proposed site would eliminate traditional shellfishing and fin fishing on the eastern edge of Segar Cove.

Raso owns nearly 10 acres south of Meadow Point, but, even with his request for additional acreage, only about 3 percent of the pond is used for aquaculture, which is below the maximum of 5 percent of a pond’s water surface area that CRMC allows for commercial aquaculture.

While the general sentiment across the state, including by many who use the same waters to play, is that aquaculture is good for the local economy and environment — oysters, like other bivalves, filter water and remove excess nutrients such as nitrogen; a small oyster farm can clean as much as 100 million gallons of water daily — resistance to oyster farming has become strong in recent years.

Shooting Birds for Likes and Follows

The increasing popularity of bird photography and the desire of photographers to showcase their images on social media is raising concerns that birds are being harassed and disturbed, leading to potentially harmful effects on their health.

Bird conservation organizations around the globe, from the National Audubon Society to Britain’s Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds, are asking bird photographers to avoid getting too close and reminding the photographers of the codes of ethics that many wildlife photography organizations have established.

Local wildlife advocates have noted that it’s also an increasing problem in RI.

“It’s definitely a problem here, and it’s getting worse,” said one longtime birder who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “There are more photographers, and there are more forums that photographers can post their photos on. It’s an ego trip for them. They want to post their photos and get likes, and that leads them to harass the birds.”

Getting too close to wild birds can pose serious dangers to them. Birds see people as predators, and when people approach, the birds must stop feeding and instead exert extra energy they may not have to escape the area. They also may be forced to leave their nests unattended, making their eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation, thermal stress or trampling.

For detail on these stories, and to get more of the latest environmental news, visit www.ecoRI.org. Subscribe to ecoRI News’ free weekly e-newsletter at www.ecoRI.org/subscribe.

For the Festive Drinker

It’s that time of year to get cooking, get traveling, and get shopping! And while lots of people can be easy to shop for, some prove more difficult. That person can often be the alcohol enthusiast, as the world of cocktails, wine, and beer get so big so fast! So what do you get for the home bartender, or just plain lover of alcohol? I reached out to a few local shops to see if they’re doing any gift packages for the holidays, this is what I found out!

Campus Fine Wines

127 Brook Street

Campus Fine Wines is doing holiday wine packs to bring to a party, give to a friend, or easily stock your own bar for guests! They have two options for packs consisting of six bottles of wine which include red, white, and bubbles! All these wines are small production and low intervention. You’re bound to impress your friends and family with these hard-to-find wines!

Holiday Vax’d Pack $100

Holiday Boostah Pack $150


756 Hope Street

This adorable shop for all things cooking and bartending will have their shelves stocked with various cocktail books, glassware, and of course bar tools for you to choose from. And while they always have the materials, the staff is well adept at putting together personalized gift baskets for you. From the perfect shaped ice to a variety of shakers, mixing glasses, and jiggers, Stock has you covered!

And of course, books are always fun! Here are some cocktail books I recommend, which Stock is selling right now:

The Art of the Japanese Cocktail by Masahiro Urushido and Michael Anstendig from PR powerhouse Hanna Lee Communications. This is on my personal wish list! I can’t wait to get my hands on it! I’d recommend it for the more advanced home bartender, someone who will hunt down rare ingredients and make time to make their own syrups. 

For beginners, Stock has The Curious Bartender Cocktails at Home by Tristan Stephenson. 

So whether you’re looking for gifts or just looking to stock your own shelves, local shops have you covered! Happy shopping! 

I Only Have Pies For You

Hartley’s Pork Pies is a Rhode Island secret treasure; “The Great British Baking Show” wishes they could make pork pies this perfect. 

Located in an unassuming building in Lincoln, they’re only open Wed through Sat from 7am (8am on Saturdays) until the pies run out. This could be early or could be late, so if you really want one (or ten) call ahead to reserve.

Naturally, we asked for a press tour, which is when Dan Doire, whose family has owned the business since 1995 crossed his arms and said, “Nope. Nobody sees in the back.”

We prodded and pried, but Doire was firm. He wasn’t giving any hints about what goes into those savory crisp-crust pies. And maybe that’s for the best. Because something that tastes this good has to be bad for you.

If you’re looking for other exceptional pies of the sweet or the savory variety, PVD Pies in Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village has been serving them up since mid-pandemic. A tiny showcase with a ginormous kitchen behind it, PVD Pies took over where the Duck & Bunny baking used to happen (that treasured snuggery has been on indefinite hiatus while their building on Wickenden St is torn down and rebuilt). D & B owner Dan Becker extended the use of the facility to Gina Herlihy, who had been bartending at sister-bar Ogie’s Trailer Park but dreaming of pies. 

She chased that dream, brought on help from Maia Pons, and now produces a limited selection five days a week, along with pies-to-order and pie kits you can simply bake at home. “I started with my grandmother’s recipes for Chicken Pot Pie and Apple Pie,” says Herlihy, “But people have really taken to many of the others, like the chocolate cream pie — Maia’s a wizard with pudding, and it tastes so very different, so much better, when it’s homemade.” Other top pies include the savory Chicken Broccoli Alfredo and the sweet Blueberry Crumble.

All pies make great seasonal gifts or gift certificates.

Hartley’s Pork Pies, 871 Smithfield Ave, Lincoln, RI, (401) 726-1295
Note: The first Hartley’s store, “Hartley’s Original Pork Pies,” founded in 1902, is at 1729 S Main St, Fall River. And there’s another at 1165 County St, Somerset, MA 02726. All three stores use the same pie presses, but have different owners and slightly different recipes. 

PVD Pies in Hope Artiste Village in the main concourse, right next to vintage clothing store Back of the Closet, 1005 Main St, Pawtucket, Suite #8208. fb.com/PVDPies 

¡Qué Padre!: Providence’s sole tortilla factory serves them up hot

La Mexicana Mini Mart & Tortilleria is the only tortilla factory in Providence. Located in a building that serves as both a restaurant and convenience store, it packs a lot into a small area. The attached restaurant is a one-level stone enclosure with a four-table outdoor seating area protected by a fence. 

The store has a plethora of basic convenience store items with all the daily necessities: sodas, candy, canned goods and a small number of personal needs products. As a bodega, the store features Hispanic groceries and hard to find items, such as Hispanic candies, cheese sauces and drinks. The store also provides a money service, including cash checking, money orders and a fax machine.

La Mexicana was inspired by the family tortilleria in Mexico. It was opened upon realizing that Providence didn’t have a tortilla factory.

The restaurant isn’t big, with three two-person tables (with plexiglass currently separating each table) stationed across from the counter, but it feels comfortable. Spanish lyrics drift through the room as friendly staff take orders. The sounds and smells of the food being cooked make it feel like you are in their kitchen, even though it’s located in a separate room. 

The menu features nine reasonably-priced entrees to choose from: tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, burritos, tortas, huaraches, gorditas nachos, empanadas, flautas and a carne asada plate. Sides include rice, refried beans, guacamole, a small bag of chips and a cup of salsa. There are frozen seasonal items (mangonadas, shaved ice) available during the summer.

And of course, La Mexicana makes their own corn tortillas daily. Ask at the bodega counter. They are sold hot and fresh. The gluten-free tortillas are made with no preservatives or additives, ensuring stellar quality and taste. The smallest order available is a pound and a half, which can make for many meals or be eaten by itself for a quick and tasty snack. Best of all, these tortillas are firm, and hold up well to microwaving or reheating. No need to double-up.

La Mexicana is a family-run business with a dedication to quality. Both the restaurant and mini-mart have a steady stream of customers. The friendly staff are always smiling, helpful and appreciative of their patrons. La Mexicana is a gem set in Silver Lake.

La Mexicana is located at 403 Plainfield St in Providence. Hours are Sunday 9 am – 6 pm, Monday – Friday 11 am – 8:30 pm, Saturday 9 am – 8:30 pm. 401-228-8553. https://la-mexicana-inc.business.site. Available for eat in, take out for delivery from Seamless, Postmates, Grubhub and UberEats. 

Stock Culinary Goods: Food Lovers, Rejoice!

When Motif caught up with Jan Faust Dane, owner of Stock Culinary Goods on Hope Street in Providence, she didn’t jump to sell us on some of her top-of-the-line wares, like handmade Forge to Table Knives, Andiamo Presentation Boards crafted in Warren, or Michelle Phaneuf’s teeny bowls, which feature little Rhode Island motifs such as the Superman Building and the Manchester Street Power Station. Instead, she talked more about the experience people have when they hang out at a party. 

“So often, parties end up in the kitchen.” Dane said. “I wanted the store to have that same feeling: convivial, and sociable.” 

Since 2012, Stock has become just what she envisioned. “There are no average customers here. We have little kids getting milk, aspiring Johnson & Wales chefs, neighborhood regulars, and gift buyers.” 

The store has an approachable air, so that both casual enjoyers of food and kitchen experts can feel at home. It’s also a place of congregation, where Dane has the pleasure of introducing many of her friends, vendors, and customers to each other. 

From eclectic spices to Rhode Island-sourced gifts, from cookware and cookbooks to coffee paraphernalia and bakeware, if you or someone you love enjoys the experience of eating, Stock has something for them. “It’s like your neighborhood kitchen store,” Jan Dane said, her smile wide. “We have all kinds of great gifts for the lovers of food in your life.” 

Omicron virus “variant of concern”: More transmissible, unknown if otherwise more dangerous

A new “variant of concern” (VOC) for the virus that causes COVID-19 has today been assigned Greek letter “omicron” by the World Health Organization (WHO) at an emergency meeting of the organization’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).

In the particular case of the new omicron variant, designated B.1.1.529 in the PANGOLIN nomenclature, its prevalence where found so far in South Africa and Botswana strongly suggests that it is more highly transmissible than the delta variant B.1.617.2 it supplanted. “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant [in patients recovered from infection from another variant], as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa,” the WHO said in a statement.

According to WHO, the first known case of the omicron variant was found in a specimen collected on Nov 9. According to the PANGOLIN sheet, it was first sequenced for detection on Nov 11.

WHO TAG-VE said that while standard tests are able to detect the omicron variant, one of its characteristic mutations, called “S gene dropout,” causes one of the components of ordinary polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis to fail, and “this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.”

Whether the omicron VOC exhibits harmful behavior beyond increased transmissibility, such as increased virulence or increased resistance to vaccines and treatments, is not yet known and is unlikely to be known for several weeks, but at this time there is no evidence for it. Vaccines work by training the immune system using proteins present on the outer surface of the virus, so in theory the more mutations a variant exhibits the greater the risk that the immune system trained by either a vaccine or a prior infection will be unable to recognize the variant as effectively.

Promoted from status as a “variant under monitoring” (VUM), the VOC designation of omicron is the most severe classification, used for variants with significant genetic mutations that demonstrate, at a level of global public health effect, evidence of increased transmissibility, increased virulence, or increased ability to escape tests, vaccines, or treatments. The status of “variant of interest” (“VOI”) is between the two, with evidence of significant mutations and consequence but not yet affecting global public health. WHO assigns Greek letter designations to VOIs and VOCs to aid in public recognition: there are currently four active VOCs (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and two VOIs (lambda, mu) prior to the new omicron designation. Variants demoted from VOC or VOI to VUM retain their Greek letters (eta, iota, kappa, theta).

Shortly after the WHO announcement, President Joe Biden issued a statement that the US would ban travel from a number of African countries: “As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises.” Biden further said the best way for Americans to protect themselves is to get a booster shot if they have already been vaccinated and to get vaccinated if not already.

Biden noted the global spread of the pandemic: “Finally, for the world community: the news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations. The United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined. It is time for other countries to match America’s speed and generosity.”