County reports 622 COVID cases, 6 deaths as omicron arrives in California
The first U.S. case of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 was confirmed in San Francisco, and San Diego County public health officials encouraged people to continue to follow existing pandemic guidance.
"There's a lot about Omicron we don't know yet, such as how it spreads, how sick it can make people and how well existing vaccines work against it," Dr. Cameron Kaiser, county deputy public health officer, said on Wednesday. "In the meantime, the same precautions we've been advising for other strains of COVID-19 should help prevent or lessen the likelihood of people getting and spreading the Omicron variant, as well as the Delta, which is still the dominant strain."
There are still no confirmed cases of Omicron in Southern California, but the county and the local medical community are monitoring for the variant using genome sequencing.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that the patient who tested positive was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Monday. The unidentified person was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and experienced "mild symptoms" that were improving, Fauci said.
On Twitter, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the Omicron variant is likely present in other states in addition to California.
"There's no reason to panic — but we should remain vigilant," Newsom wrote. "That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors."
During a subsequent news conference, Newsom confirmed that the patient is a San Francisco resident who began developing symptoms of COVID on Nov. 25, three days after returning to the United States.
"This individual is doing well, mild symptoms," Newsom said. "The people that this individual came into contact (with) have been tested and we look forward to more information coming out as appropriate."
He said no close contacts of the individual have yet tested positive for the virus. He noted that the patient, while fully vaccinated, had not yet received a booster shot, indicating that the person had received the shots more recently and likely was not yet eligible for a booster.
The Omicron variant was identified as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization on Friday after it was identified as responsible for surging COVID case numbers in South Africa. The variant is believed to spread more easily due to its large number of mutations, but research is still being done to determine if it is more resistant to existing vaccines and could lead to more serious illness.
Newsom said the latest figures show that 92.1% of all Californians aged 18 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine.
San Diego County public health officials reported 622 new COVID-19 infections and six additional deaths associated with the virus on Wednesday.
Wednesday's data increases the county's cumulative totals to 385,396 infections and 4,346 fatalities since the pandemic began.
The number of COVID patients hospitalized in San Diego County decreased from 295 on Tuesday to 292, according to the latest state figures. Of those patients, 84 were in intensive care, a decrease of two from Tuesday.
A total of 20,172 tests were reported to the county on Wednesday, with 3.1% returning positive.
The number of county residents who have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine is now nearly 2.66 million — or 84.7% of residents age 5 and older.
More than 2.36 million people, or 75.1% of residents 5 and older, are fully vaccinated. Roughly 460,110 San Diego County residents 18 years of age or older have received a booster dose.