Los Angeles County confirms case of COVID-19 omicron variant
Speaker 1: (00:01)
As anticipated the Omicron variant is being detected in more cities. Los Angeles has discovered its first case of the new COVID variant in a fully vaccinated person who recently traveled to South Africa. Health officials say the person is recovering and quarantining at home. San Diego county health officials are maintaining existing safety protocols. Joining us with the latest on San Diego's response to the new variant is KPBS health reporter, Matt Hoffman, Matt, welcome Maureen, what are local officials saying about Omicron?
Speaker 2: (00:35)
I think that there's a lot about Omicron that we just don't know yet. You know, while it's suggested that it's likely to be more contagious, such as like the Delta variant, uh, we don't really know exactly yet. You know, we don't know how sick it can make people, um, and how well, uh, the existing vaccines work or don't work against it. Um, and you know, county officials right now are saying, uh, you know, the best precaution is the steps that we already know to take against, you know, how COVID-19 spreads get vaccinated. And as the governor pointed out, let's not panic. And get ahead of the information here. You know, there's just a lot of information coming out of South Africa. You know, we've had a couple cases here in the United States, a couple of cases here in California. Um, but we knew that this was sort of predictable, right? I mean, not only because the world was interconnected, but because if the virus is out there and infecting people, it will have a chance to mutate. But the question is, is that going to be a more dangerous variant than the ones that we've seen before, like Delta or some of the other ones, how
Speaker 1: (01:31)
Is testing being done to see if the variant is
Speaker 2: (01:34)
Here? Yes. So testing is always being done. You know, like if you get COVID and you go get sick, you go get tested at a county site, you go get tested at your health care provider. Some of those tests are sequenced. Uh that's where they look to see, you know, what exactly a strain of COVID do you have here for a long time? It was the Delta variant. Um, and now they're looking to see if they can find, uh, OMI Omicron. And that testing happens at county sites happens at private labs that sequencing, I should say it happens at some of the healthcare providers here, you know, UC San Diego, uh, outlets like that are on the lookout for Omicron. And once they see it, they say the let us know, okay.
Speaker 1: (02:07)
UCF is asking all students who traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday to take a COVID test. I'm wondering that, is there an increase in new COVID cases,
Speaker 2: (02:17)
Looking at the data, there is not a new increase in COVID cases, just in the last, you know, month or two, uh, you know, we're averaging about 350 400 cases per day. Um, uh, you know, a few deaths are, are there as well too. Um, but we're not seeing a general increase. Now keep in mind a lot of the data, as we know, has a lagging indicator in terms of when people get sick, when they might go to the hospital and then unfortunately if they may die. Um, so, you know, Thanksgiving just recently happened. Um, a lot of people are vaccinated, uh, but we could still yet see an increase in cases from the holiday.
Speaker 1: (02:50)
Yeah. I want to talk to you about that. President Biden made a new pitch for people getting vaccinated as we approach winter and the holidays, our local expressing concern about a possible new surge in COVID.
Speaker 2: (03:03)
Uh, I would say the answer to that is yes. I mean, the governor has said, you know, we know how this virus works. Uh, we know that last winter we saw a large surge, um, obviously a lot more people weren't vaccinated yet. You know, we're coming up on, uh, just about a year of, you know, people first having access to the vaccine, uh, before it came a lot more widespread. Uh, but we know how this virus acts, you know, we know that if people are vaccinated, if they are in, uh, indoor spaces with other unvaccinated people, if somebody has that virus and there's not good ventilation, we know that it's going to spread, uh, very easily and it may infect people. Um, so it sort of predictable is what they're saying that they expect to see some sort of an increase. The question is, is it going to be enough to overwhelm the hospital system,
Speaker 1: (03:44)
Right? Are our hospitals preparing for an increase?
Speaker 2: (03:46)
I think that they're always preparing for an increase. Um, but we haven't, there's still a lot in terms of Omicron that we don't know, you know, there's some data coming out of South Africa that suggests maybe a, it does not have an increased hospitalization rate attached to it. Um, but as some of those experts are saying too, those are lagging indicators. So, so we just don't know, but hospitals are always, always preparing. It's also worth noting too, that in terms of this vaccine, what we do know what we don't know, um, you know, companies like Pfizer and Medina say that they're already in some of the initial stages of creating a vaccine for this, should it be necessary? And obviously wouldn't be ready right away has to go through the authorization processes. But some of those companies are estimating that it could take them a hundred days to finish something.
Speaker 1: (04:29)
What is the status of vaccinations here in San Diego? And while we're talking about it, what's the status of out boosters?
Speaker 2: (04:35)
Yeah. So in San Diego county, uh, we're seeing, uh, among the eligible population in terms of first doses, uh, 84% of residents have gotten their shots. And for, uh, completing the series, we have 75% of residents that have that now, not to throw too many numbers at you, but it's worth noting too. Uh, that governor do some said this week, that 92% of Californians 18 and over have gotten their first dose. So that is a very, very high number. We have that vaccination while there, you know, some people are sort of questioning the further we go. You know, we tried the incentives, you know, we had the prize money lottery wheel. Um, other states were doing different things. How much can we really tick up those numbers? Um, you know, we're seeing an increase, you know, in some parts of the country, some parts of the world with OMI Cron. Um, but it's unclear if we could really get to 100,
Speaker 1: (05:23)
You know, mad people talk about COVID fatigue, I guess we're all tired of wearing masks and distancing, but there seems to be a renewed emphasis on keeping those rules in place. Now tell us about that.
Speaker 2: (05:36)
There definitely is an emphasis on that and that's because sort of what I was talking about earlier is we know how this virus spreads, you know, and we know that the longer it's going to be out there, that there's a chance that more of these variants that could escape immunity, that could be more contagious, uh, are going to be popping up. You know, we saw it happening with Delta, um, and now it may be happening with the OMI crown, but it's, you know, it's worth pointing out that we still don't know yet. You know, we have those two cases that one out of San Francisco, that person was traveling from South Africa, having mild symptoms. You know, there's some data that shows maybe people that have had COVID and have some immunity after that, um, are not as protected against this, but, uh, it's really going to be interesting. Maureen paying attention to the data, moving forward to see if this, if this variant of concern really will be a big concern,
Speaker 1: (06:23)
We'll be discussing more about the OMA Cron variant today on round table. Won't you?
Speaker 2: (06:27)
Yeah, we'll be diving into it all today on brown table and that's coming up right after the show.
Speaker 1: (06:32)
I've been speaking with KPBS health reporter, Matt Hoffman, Matt.
Speaker 2: (06:35)
Thank you. Thanks Maureen.
An unidentified Los Angeles County resident was in isolation, recovering from what was confirmed as the county's first case of the COVID-19 omicron variant originally detected in South Africa and now present in about three dozen countries.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed the case late Thursday afternoon, saying the patient is a person who returned to Los Angeles after traveling to South Africa via London on Nov. 22. Health officials said the infection is "most likely travel-related."
The unidentified person is a fully vaccinated adult who lives in Los Angeles County, health officials said. The person is in isolation, with symptoms that "are improving without medical care." A "small number" of close contacts in the Los Angeles area have been identified, and so far all have tested negative for the virus and none are showing any symptoms, officials said.
The patient is the second known case of the variant in California. Authorities on Wednesday confirmed the first U.S. case of the variant in a San Francisco resident. U.S. cases have also been confirmed in Minnesota and Colorado.
"Throughout the pandemic, we have always known there would be more mutations, resulting in the possibility of a more dangerous variant than the Delta variant," Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. "While we can't know for certain the impact of omicron at this time, the good news is that we already know how to reduce transmission and slow spread using both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions.
"I encourage everyone to take the steps that we know offer protection, including getting vaccinated or boosted, testing if you fell sick or are a close contact, and wearing your mask indoors and at large mega events."
It's still unknown if the omicron variant is more transmissible than other COVID strains, or if it causes more serious illness or can evade protections of current vaccines. The variant, however, is blamed for a rapid spike in cases in South Africa.