The California Department of Public Health announced today that travelers arriving from countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as areas of concern will be subjected to increased testing. So far that includes Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The announcement of the first known US infection comes less than a week after the variant was identified in South Africa and just days after the World Health Organization deemed it a “variant of concern.”
According to the California and San Francisco departments of public health, the patient returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 with mild symptoms despite being fully vaccinated. The test results were sequenced at UC San Francisco and confirmed to be the omicron variant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All close contacts of the patient have tested negative. The individual, who did not need hospitalization, is between the ages of 18 and 49.
State officials have been bracing for the discovery.
“We must remain vigilant against this variant, but it is not a cause for panic,” the state health department said in a statement. “We recognize that everyone is exhausted, and the news of a new variant can be overwhelming. It is important that we collectively focus on the things we know prevent the spread of COVID-19, and its variants. Individuals should (1) get vaccinated and boosted; (2) wear your mask in indoor settings; (3) get tested if you have symptoms; and (4) stay home if you are sick.”
Humboldt County Health Officer Ian Hoffman said another local COVID surge is likely as holiday season moves into full swing, and the announcement of the first U.S. Omicron variant cases being confirmed in California this week throwing an unknown calculation into the mix.
What that’s going to look like, is still unclear, he says, with “the jury still out” on possible impacts from Omicron.
At the end of the day, Hoffman said, the best tools for keeping cases — and the potential for hospitalization and death from the virus — down and moving out of the pandemic are the same as they’ve ever been: masking, testing, limiting large gatherings and, most importantly, vaccinations and boosters.
And, he said, the county has a leg up since an indoor mask mandate is already in place here. There are no discussions about further restrictions or lockdowns in response to the variant’s arrival, Hoffman noted.
Anyone who has traveled in the last two weeks should get tested, he said, and information sent out to the Humboldt County medical community in the last 24 hours includes advising further screening about where people have been as well as having PCR tests done on anyone who has been out of the county.
He said Public Health has requested that travelers’ tests be sent to the county’s lab to expedite sequencing to check for which variant was responsible for the positive result but does not think Omicron is currently circulating in the area.
Hoffman also emphasized again that the vaccines and boosters are “highly effect” and “very safe.”
“They will be the thing that will end this (pandemic) for all of us,” Hoffman said.
This article was originally published by CalMatters. The North Coast Journal contributed to this report.