Omicron Detected in California, Vaccinations and Boosters are Urged Nationwide

Omicron Detected in California, Vaccinations and Boosters are Urged Nationwide

by Yehudit Garmaise

The first known case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected in California by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Associated Press reported.

 The infected patient returned to California from South Africa, where Omicron was first detected, before rapidly spreading to more than 20 countries worldwide.

Health officials did not say where the infected patient lives, but the case was confirmed by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, with genomic sequencing conducted at UC San Francisco.

The patient, who is self-quarantining, was fully vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms that are improving, the LA Times reported.

While the colder weather that drives people inside and the increased traveling and gathering of the end of the year already increased the risks of COVID transmission, and now with the arrival of the first patient who has been diagnosed to be infected with the Omicron variant, California health officials are bracing and preparing for what may be yet another COVID surge.

Health officials nationwide, however, continue to say that it will likely take weeks to determine whether the Omicron variant, which has mutated 30 times from COVID’s original strain, is more virulent or vaccine-evasive than the Delta strain, which is currently the most dominant strain in the US.

While Omicron is feared to be highly contagious, the strain may only result in mild symptoms. The risks of severe illness, hospitalization, and death are what most concern physicians and scientists, who are not yet sure to what extent the current vaccines can prevent.

This morning, New York City Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi, MD, and Health + Hospitals CEO Mitch Katz, MD, both emphasized that vaccinated people are seven times less likely to become seriously ill with the strains of COVID, such as Delta, that are already in New York.

“Unvaccinated New Yorkers are at significantly higher risk for infection, hospital, and death from COVID than those who are vaccinated,” Dr. Chokshi said this morning. “We know that unvaccinated people are seven times more likely to be infected with Delta, which is the dominant COVID strain right now.

“Our message remains clear: get vaccinated, and get booster shots.”

The current vaccines continue to provide protection, and while vaccinated people may test positive, they will not actually get sick, Dr. Katz said, “There is no question that the COVID virus will continue to circulate and mutate, but what I am focused on is, ‘Are people getting sick? Are we losing lives, as we were before the vaccinations?'"

All of the data, so far, suggests that Omicron creates manageable infections in that vaccinated people are not getting very sick, Dr. Katz said.

In addition, people who have had boosters have an 86% reduction in their chances of testing positive for COVID, according to a study that was done in Israel and published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, pointed out Ted Long, MD, the leader of the city's Test & Trace Corps, who added that the CDC has recommended that everyone who had their last vaccination shot six months ago should get their boosters. 

Public health officials and elected leaders continue to emphasize that providing vaccinations and boosters to as many people as possible is the only way to defeat the coronavirus and end its circulation: for once and for all.

“We don’t know everything we need to know yet about the Omicron variant,” said Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, who is the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “But we know that vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect yourself from severe illness and complications from all known SARS-CoV-2 variants to date.”

Although not much is yet clear, the World Health Organization (WHO) quickly designated Omicron as “a variant of concern.”

“The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday. The globe, he continued, is “living through a cycle of panic and neglect” where “hard-won gains could vanish in an instant.

“We shouldn’t need another wake-up call. We should all be wide awake to the threat of this virus.” 

At the same time, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's top health adviser, today told reporters, "This will end.

"There is no doubt. I promise you that."

Photo: Flickr

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