LA County documents first case of COVID omicron variant

Officials caution against possible surges, encourage unvaccinated residents to get their shots

As the third year of coronavirus looms, the threat of the new omicron has been detected in Los Angeles County, public health officials confirmed on Thursday, Dec. 2.

According to a county press release, a fully vaccinated individual returned to their residence in LA County after traveling from South Africa through London, England on Nov. 22. The individual is currently isolating at home and improving without medical care — anyone who came into contact with the infected person tested negative for COVID, officials said.

“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,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of Public Health.

The county is reiterating its urge for residents to get vaccinated against COVID, saying that the “vaccines are effective against the Delta variant and earlier strains of the virus, which allows us to remain hopeful that the approved vaccines will also provide some protection against Omicron.”

As of Friday, Dec. 3, nearly three-quarters of the county population 12 years old and older has been fully vaccinated. Only 14% of children aged 5-11 have received at least one dose of Pfizer, which was cleared for use among that age bracket in October.

“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,” Ferrer said. “I encourage everyone to take the steps that we know offer protection, including getting vaccinated or boosted, tested if you feel sick or are a close contact, and wearing your mask indoors and at large mega events.”

Omicron, which is named after the letter in the Greek alphabet, was designated a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26 by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is unclear where the variant originated from, but it was first detected in South Africa, which is currently experiencing a spike in positive Covid cases.

The variant has been seen in travelers arriving in countries across the world: so far, the variant has been detected in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, China, Japan, Australia, Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland, according to WHO.

U.S. President Joe Biden warned that infections in the U.S. are likely to increase this winter while laying out broad plans to tackle the highly contagious new variant.

“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” he said, speaking at the National Institutes of Health medical research facility in Maryland.

Under his plan, the government will require international travelers coming to the U.S. to be tested for coronavirus within one day of departure, regardless of vaccination status. Mask mandates on public transportation will extend to March 18.

The first known transmission in the U.S. occurred in Minnesota, after the patient reportedly attended an anime convention in New York, which discovered five cases of omicron. The new variant was also detected in Colorado. The first case in California was detected in San Francisco, from a traveler who was vaccinated but had not received a booster shot, officials confirmed.

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at k.medenilla@asianjournalinc.com.

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