Newsom: Omicron variant won't spark California shutdown
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Two cases of the Omicron variant have now been detected in the U S the first was found right here in California, despite the confirmed presence of the new strain president Biden indicated in his morning remarks today that new lockdowns or federal mandates will not be part of the plan to fight the virus.
Speaker 2: (00:18)
But my plan and I'm announcing today pulls no punches. And while my existing federal vaccination requirements have been reviewed by the courts, this plan does not expand or add to those mandates a plan that all Americans hopefully can rally around and it should get bipartisan support. In my humble opinion,
Speaker 1: (00:37)
Presence of the emerging strain of the virus in the U S raises questions over its potential transmissibility and side effects, and whether it could replace Delta as the dominant strain of COVID-19 joining me now with more is Dr. David pride, infectious disease specialist, and head of the pride lab at UCS D, which plays a role in the research and identification of variants. Dr. Pride, welcome to the
Speaker 3: (01:02)
Program. Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here. And what
Speaker 1: (01:05)
Do we now know about Omicron?
Speaker 3: (01:08)
We know that it was first identified in South Africa. We know that since it has been identified that mutation or that variant has made its way really across the world, through Asia, through Europe and now to the United States. And I think the expectation it having made it so far so quickly that it will probably make it all the way across the world.
Speaker 1: (01:30)
So what are some of the challenges to knowing that information right now, given that there are so many people infected with this new variant already,
Speaker 3: (01:38)
The biggest challenges, just the concern about mortality in general, the other concern is the concern about whether or not the vaccination will protect you. So what we've seen in the past is that we've seen relatively similar mortality rates based on the different variants. What has been different amongst the different variances has been their infectivity. So the concern as we may have seen in South Africa is the replacement of one variant with another. Um, so the question becomes is Omicron going to be more effective than the Delta variant, which is an obvious cause for concern. And then of course we want to know about mortality with it as well. And then lastly, we want to know how effective is the vaccination, because a lot of our populations and certain areas are really highly vaccinated, but if the virus is more infective for vaccinated individuals, then that means that it's probably going to spread through the population a bit.
Speaker 1: (02:42)
So our people in Southern Africa who are infected with Omicron presenting with more severe disease,
Speaker 3: (02:47)
Not that we know of, uh, thus far, um, many of the symptoms and the sort of rates of, uh, of, uh, uh, of disease or the rates of which they show symptomatology has been very similar to what we've seen for past viruses. Um, so, uh, at least early on in the process, there is some optimism that it's, uh, um, the symptoms that you will get are pretty much the same as what we've seen from previous versions or previous variants of the virus.
Speaker 1: (03:21)
So what are the major factors then that set Omicron apart from Delta with regards to side effects and transmissibility?
Speaker 3: (03:28)
The primary concern has to be that this particular variant of the virus is going to basically be more fit than for example, the Delta variant that's out there. Um, so that it might persist for long periods of time in our population. And we're obviously concerned about the idea that, you know, we're ultimately going to have to learn to live with the virus, because it's just going to continue to mutate because there's so many people out there who are not protected against infection.
Speaker 1: (03:56)
What role does the high rate of disease circulating in unvaccinated? People play in mutating, a virus like the,
Speaker 3: (04:03)
It plays a huge role. Um, it, it's very similar to sort of the things that we were taught in high school and in college, um, really about simple virology. And that is that, um, when you have, uh, an infectious entity like a virus that has a very high mutation rate, if you will give it a host that is susceptible, it will continue to change. And those changes that make it more fit will ultimately pass through the population. And that is exactly what we're seeing, uh, with the alpha and the Delta, and perhaps even now the Alma chronic variant is that we're just seeing more fit versions of the virus. And one of the things that is of primary concern to many of us is that, you know, the virus is mutating to become more fit and those who are unvaccinated, but it's also mutating to become more fit. And those who are vaccinated because we're giving it the opportunity by having so many people in our population who are susceptible to the virus by not having been vaccinated.
Speaker 1: (05:13)
So how do you distinguish a new Corona virus from a SARS cov, two variant
Speaker 3: (05:17)
In general, we sequenced these genomes. I mean, that's how we identified this sort of our original SARS cov two, uh, just by sequencing the full genome. And the technology now is available to do these sorts of things rapidly. If you suspect someone has a viral infection that you do not have a test for it, you can literally take their cells, extract their DNA and RNA and sequence it and look for viral structures. And it just so happens that, you know, SARS, cov two was a Corona virus, very similar to other coronaviruses that we've seen before. Um, so it's very easy to assemble these smaller genomes from that, uh, material so that anyone who is infected or displaying symptoms because sequencing is so prevalent. And so cost-effective now across the world, we have the ability to sort of sequence and figure out whether we're seeing something new, whether we're seeing something that is basically a newer version of something we've seen before, or whether we're just seeing the same old thing that we've seen before. All of those things are possible in a very rapid timeframe.
Speaker 1: (06:29)
I have said that the travel bans instituted in countries like South Africa are not effective measures to contain the new variant. Do you agree with,
Speaker 3: (06:37)
I do agree that it's probably not going to be effective with that said though, by having these travel bans, you can perhaps alter the curve at least a little bit, meaning that it goes up a bit more slowly than it would otherwise. So that places may be able to alter the curve slightly just by instituting some type of a travel ban. They will not be able to prevent this virus from ultimately making it into their population. And of course, if it is as fit as many people believe it is already, there's obviously the potential that it will take over and become the new dominant. Very
Speaker 1: (07:15)
I've been speaking with Dr. David pride, infectious disease specialist, and virologist at UC San Diego, Dr. Price. Thank you very much for joining us today.
Speaker 3: (07:25)
Confirmation of the first U.S. case of the omicron variant in California was not surprising and shouldn't force another shutdown heading into the holidays, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
State health officials said they are increasing COVID-19 testing at California's airports for arrivals from countries identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as being areas where the newly identified variant is spreading. But otherwise Newsom said he does not anticipate that the most populous state will impose another stay-at-home order or other new restrictions.
“Look, I’m confident if we continue to do what we’ve done, which is continue to be in the top 10 in terms of the lowest case rates and on the highest vaccination rates, on the lowest positivity rate, that won’t be an issue,” he said during a visit to Merced County in the Central Valley to promote vaccinations and booster shots.
Newsom imposed the nation's first statewide stay-home order in March 2020. In September, he handily defeated an effort to recall him that was spurred by frustration with his restrictions designed to slow the virus's spread.
California health officials said the first U.S. case of the omicron variant was identified in a San Francisco resident who had recently traveled to South Africa and developed symptoms after returning, San Francisco health director Grant Colfax said.
The person returned on Nov. 22, developed mild symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco obtained a sample from the patient Tuesday evening and worked overnight to identify the variant through genetic sequencing.
State and local health officials refused to provide many details about the person, citing privacy concerns, but Newsom said the person is between the ages of 18 and 49. The patient, who developed minor symptoms and wasn't hospitalized, was fully vaccinated but hadn't gotten a booster because the last shot was too recent, Newsom said.
State health officials said they are continuing to monitor the variant’s presence and progress through California's existing genome sequencing surveillance process.
California’s health secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said the fact the infected individual was vaccinated might cause some to question the vaccines' effectiveness, particularly against the recently discovered variant.
“We’ve been talking for months about the fact that vaccinations do one really, really important thing: protect against severe disease, against hospitalization and death," he said. "And the evidence that an individual with omicron ... actually has mild symptoms, is improving, is a testimony to the importance of the vaccinations.”
Ghaly said people can expect to see more cases in California. “That’s why we need to keep our guard up,” he said.
State health officials urged people to continue with the same precautions they have been promoting all along: Get the vaccine and a booster shot; wear masks indoors in public; get tested if symptoms develop; and stay home if feeling sick.
California experienced its worst surge of cases during last year's holiday season. Cases most recently spiked in late summer and then fell swiftly until largely plateauing. About 3,200 people are hospitalized, less than half than three months ago.