There is still so much unknown about the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa amid a spike in infections there, including whether the variant is more transmissible, results in more serious illness or reduces the effectiveness of vaccines.
But officials and California and beyond say the new variant, which has yet to be detected in the United States but is likely already here, needs special attention.
“California is closely monitoring the new variant of Omicron, which has not yet arrived in California or the United States. Vaccines continue to be our best way through the pandemic by protecting us safely from disease. serious cases of COVID-19 and its variants, “Dr Tomás J Aragón, the public health officer and director of public health, said in a statement. “We are doubling down on our immunization and recall efforts to ensure all Californians have access to safe, effective, and free vaccines that can prevent serious illness and death.”
Officials hope a public-private partnership known as COVIDNet will help officials detect Omicron relatively early in California if or when it gets here.
The California Department of Public Health said it was preparing to increase coronavirus testing at California airports for U.S. citizens and legal residents returning from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. The CDC recommends that travelers from these countries be tested within three to five days of arrival, self-quarantine for seven days, and isolate and test if symptoms of COVID-19 develop.
The World Health Organization on Friday named the new variant Omicron and quickly listed it as a variant of concern. The news prompted several countries, including the United States, to restrict travel from South Africa and other African countries. U.S. travel restrictions take effect Monday.
“It has clearly been around for weeks. He moved silently. It takes a while for this stuff to catch your eye, ”said Dr. Robert Schooley, professor of infectious diseases at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
Still, he said, it’s hard to predict when the variant might appear in California.
The California Department of Public Health said, “It is only a matter of time before Omicron is detected in the United States. New variants will continue to evolve as long as there are large proportions of unvaccinated people. “
It was initially suggested that the new variant causes a generally mild illness, based on many cases followed in South Africa. But some scientists have warned that this suggestion could be based more on the fact that these were younger, healthier people whose cases were reported early, and that it is really too early to know if this variant. causes more severe disease than the existing variants.
“It is not inevitable that viruses mutate to become less pathogenic and virulent,” said Dr Michael Mina, an epidemiologist formerly affiliated with Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, in a report. Tweeter.
The California Department of Public Health said the new variant “has many mutations in important areas of the virus that impact infectivity and the ability of the immune system to protect itself against infection. Some of the mutations worry scientists because they are very different from other variants previously detected, and some are similar.
“We don’t know at this time if this new variant causes COVID-19 disease more severe than the other variants or how it might impact the response to treatment,” the California Department of Public Health said in its communicated.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with state and local agencies, have said the best protection right now is to follow already established COVID protocols.
“We know what it takes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends that people follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in indoor public places in areas of high or high community transmission, washing their hands frequently, and physically moving away from others. The CDC also recommends that anyone 5 years of age and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting a full vaccine. The CDC is encouraging a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for those who are eligible, ”the CDC said in a statement Friday.
The identification of the Omicron variant developed quite rapidly.
The first known specimen of the variant was collected in South Africa on November 9, and scientists there announced the detection of the variant – then known as B.1.1.529 – on Wednesday. The WHO named the Omicron variant on Friday, the same day the US government ordered a travel ban for non-US travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho , Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi to come into force on Monday.
Here are some tips for the public on the Omicron variant from the California Department of Public Health:
- Get vaccinated: All COVID-19 vaccines currently available in California are safe and effective in preventing serious illness from COVID-19. Vaccination will protect you and those you love. Californians aged 5 and over are now eligible for vaccination. Additionally, people over 18 who are at least six months after their last dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or at least two months after J&J, are eligible for a booster. To get vaccinated or get a booster, call (833) 422-4255 or visit the My Turn website.
- Wear masks: The CRPD recommends that everyone wear masks in indoor public places (such as grocery stores and cinemas) regardless of immunization status. Masks are mandatory in indoor public places for anyone who is not fully vaccinated. More restrictive local and workplace rules may apply. Everyone should wear a mask on public transport (airports, planes, trains, buses, stations) and in health facilities, K-12 schools, daycares, correctional facilities, cooling centers and shelters . Learn more about our masking recommendations.
- Get a test: You should get tested for COVID-19 immediately if you experience symptoms, regardless of your vaccination status. Symptoms of COVID-19 can resemble a cold (including just “sniffles”), seasonal allergies, or the flu. COVID-19 testing in California is free for anyone who needs it. You can make an appointment for a free test, find a walk-in testing clinic, or purchase a self-test kit at your local pharmacy. Find a testing site online or call (833) 422-4255 or 211. Learn more about COVID-19 testing.
- Stay home in case of illness: Stay home if you feel sick.
LA County Recommendations:
Here are some tips from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health:
- Individuals wear a mask at any crowded indoor or outdoor event and adhere to indoor mask requirements in public places.
- Residents isolate, as required by law, if they have a positive COVID test result and have vaccinated close contacts with symptoms and unvaccinated close contacts in quarantine.
- Residents who have traveled for the holidays should be tested if they have traveled abroad or to places in this country with high transmission rates, or if they have participated in rallies and events with a large number of people, some of whom may not be vaccinated.