Everything You Need to Know About Omicron in the State of California
Two years have passed since the start of the pandemic. Though COVID hospitalizations have decreased in California, new strains have kept officials on their toes. Not so long ago it was the DELTA variant that had officials enforcing stricter vaccine mandates. More recently, South African researchers recently identified an Omicron variant of COVID.
Scientists are scrambling to discover more about the variant, as it mostly remains unknown. As a precautionary measure, countries like the United States and Great Britain have imposed travel bans on countries in Southern Africa, while Japan, Morocco and Israel have barred all foreign visitors.
The COVID variant first appeared in North America via Ontario, with Canadian officials reporting two infections in Ontario. Not long after, the first Omicron case in America was discovered in California. On November 22, a patient returned from South Africa and tested positive seven days later. According to Dr. Faucci, they only exhibited mild COVID symptoms. Though they were vaccinated, they did not take their booster shot. Currently, this individual is in self-quarantine, and all their close contacts tested negative. Most recently, 5 cases of Omicron COVID in Alameda County were linked to a November 27 wedding in WIsconsin. The situation is constantly changing, on a day-by-day basis.
California officials immediately responded, even before Omicron COVID variation arrived. Public Health Director Dr. Tomás Aragón has stressed the importance of vaccination, to the government’s approach in addressing the Omicron varian of COVID. “We are doubling down on our vaccination and booster efforts to ensure that all Californians have access to safe, effective, and free vaccines that can prevent serious illness and death,'' he further elaborated.
The Facts So Far
Currently, the World Health Organization rates Omicron as the fifth variant of concern. According to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Health Institute, there is no reason to believe that the Omicron variant of COVID is as deadly as other variants. This puts it behind strains such as Gamma, Beta, Alpha and of course Delta. With little data to go off of, Collins concludes that it is impossible to tell whether or not this variant of COVID is more dangerous than Delta, which has taken top priority among most officials.
This being said, there is a reason why countries remain concerned. Scientists in South Africa found that the Omicron variant was found to have 50 mutations across its genome. For reference, Delta has 20. Penny Moore, a virologist from the University of the Witwatersrand, suspects that Omicron covid variant could be more infectious than any other.
This many mutations could possibly assist in evading the immune system, whether or not they have the mRNA vaccines. Virologist Paul Bieniasz at Rockefeller University in New York suggests that people can still boost their resistance to Omicron (along with any other COVID variation), by having three exposures to the virus. This could mean three doses of the vaccine, or two doses after a natural infection.
At the moment, scientists are taking a day-by-day approach. Even with state-of-the-art research, Faucci suspects that it could take weeks before the Omicron COVID strain is fully understood. For now, officials can only respond by doubling down on prior preventative COVID-19 measures. This means encouraging vaccination, pushing for booster shots