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Santa Clara County braces as first omicron COVID case detected in California

Health experts brace for potential surge as holidays approach

CVS Pharmacist Benjamin Hinton II draws a COVID-19 vaccine out of a vial at Channing House in Palo Alto on Dec. 28, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Local health officials are racing to get ahead of a newly discovered COVID-19 variant, worried about a potential increase in transmissibility and vaccine evasion.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed one omicron case detected by the University of California, San Francisco. The person returned from South Africa on Nov. 22, is fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, the CDC said. The person has been self-quarantining since testing positive and all of their close contacts have tested negative. The individual had not received a booster shot and wasn't hospitalized, according to officials with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

"We are closely monitoring the omicron variant of COVID-19 and using our robust sequencing program to look for any potential spread in Santa Clara County," public health officials told San Jose Spotlight.

Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant putting the globe on edge, was first discovered among college students in South Africa in late November.

"We have always expected this variant to spread," Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at UCSF, told San Jose Spotlight. "There's a lot we don't know about it but the advice stays, which is to get your booster doses and stay in front of this."

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Scientists believe omicron to be the most infectious COVID variant yet, but it will take weeks before they fully understand it.

The surge in COVID-19 cases in South Africa could also be driven by the strain's ability to reduce vaccine efficacy, said Dr. Jorge Salinas, an infectious disease expert at Stanford University.

"This is a speculation, but perhaps the new variant is replacing delta because it can infect people that delta cannot," Salinas told San Jose Spotlight. "But there is no evidence yet that the protection that vaccines give you against severe disease or death is compromised, which is good news."

The strain has also been detected in two dozen countries across at least five continents, including Canada. The variant poses a "very high" risk, the World Health Organization said Monday.

"We know that these latest developments are causing concern, but we are confident that our community will continue to adapt and persevere, as we have throughout the pandemic," Santa Clara County officials told San Jose Spotlight.

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Scientists believe the strain is spreading much faster than others because of its mutations. The omicron variant has about 50 mutations across its genome, while other variants, including the delta variant that has driven recent surges, have fewer than 20 mutations.

Still, there's not enough data to tell the potential impact of the new COVID-19 variant, experts said.

"All we know is the biochemistry of it," Rutherford said. "We don't know how it behaves clinically. We don't know how it behaves epidemiologically. We don't know how rapidly it's transmitted or not."

Local response

Santa Clara County officials confirmed Wednesday the variant has not been detected in the county, but experts believe it's inevitable as they brace for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases with the holidays approaching.

"There are many risk factors that could make this winter a bad one," Salinas said.

Contributing risk factors include low vaccination rates, lack of rapid testing and the already overwhelmed hospital systems, he said.

Santa Clara County — and the Bay Area in general — is in a good spot to fight the new variant due to its high vaccination rate, experts said. As of Wednesday, 77.7% of all residents in the county are vaccinated and more than 404,000 people have received a booster shot, county data shows. The county started administering COVID-19 shots to young children in November.

Local health officials and experts said vaccines and boosters remain the best defense against infection, serious illness and death. Additional precautions, such as testing, masking and hand-washing, should also be taken, said Dr. B. B. Gerstman, professor emeritus of public health at San Jose State University.

Salinas said the public should understand this virus is here to stay in one form or another.

"We've been hoping that we could get rid of it for good and move on, but I don't think that's going to happen," he said. "We're going to have to live with it. We need to mitigate risks and decrease the chance that we're going to get infected."

This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published on San Jose Spotlight. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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Santa Clara County braces as first omicron COVID case detected in California

Health experts brace for potential surge as holidays approach

by /

Uploaded: Thu, Dec 2, 2021, 8:55 am

Local health officials are racing to get ahead of a newly discovered COVID-19 variant, worried about a potential increase in transmissibility and vaccine evasion.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed one omicron case detected by the University of California, San Francisco. The person returned from South Africa on Nov. 22, is fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, the CDC said. The person has been self-quarantining since testing positive and all of their close contacts have tested negative. The individual had not received a booster shot and wasn't hospitalized, according to officials with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

"We are closely monitoring the omicron variant of COVID-19 and using our robust sequencing program to look for any potential spread in Santa Clara County," public health officials told San Jose Spotlight.

Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant putting the globe on edge, was first discovered among college students in South Africa in late November.

"We have always expected this variant to spread," Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at UCSF, told San Jose Spotlight. "There's a lot we don't know about it but the advice stays, which is to get your booster doses and stay in front of this."

Scientists believe omicron to be the most infectious COVID variant yet, but it will take weeks before they fully understand it.

The surge in COVID-19 cases in South Africa could also be driven by the strain's ability to reduce vaccine efficacy, said Dr. Jorge Salinas, an infectious disease expert at Stanford University.

"This is a speculation, but perhaps the new variant is replacing delta because it can infect people that delta cannot," Salinas told San Jose Spotlight. "But there is no evidence yet that the protection that vaccines give you against severe disease or death is compromised, which is good news."

The strain has also been detected in two dozen countries across at least five continents, including Canada. The variant poses a "very high" risk, the World Health Organization said Monday.

"We know that these latest developments are causing concern, but we are confident that our community will continue to adapt and persevere, as we have throughout the pandemic," Santa Clara County officials told San Jose Spotlight.

Scientists believe the strain is spreading much faster than others because of its mutations. The omicron variant has about 50 mutations across its genome, while other variants, including the delta variant that has driven recent surges, have fewer than 20 mutations.

Still, there's not enough data to tell the potential impact of the new COVID-19 variant, experts said.

"All we know is the biochemistry of it," Rutherford said. "We don't know how it behaves clinically. We don't know how it behaves epidemiologically. We don't know how rapidly it's transmitted or not."

Santa Clara County officials confirmed Wednesday the variant has not been detected in the county, but experts believe it's inevitable as they brace for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases with the holidays approaching.

"There are many risk factors that could make this winter a bad one," Salinas said.

Contributing risk factors include low vaccination rates, lack of rapid testing and the already overwhelmed hospital systems, he said.

Santa Clara County — and the Bay Area in general — is in a good spot to fight the new variant due to its high vaccination rate, experts said. As of Wednesday, 77.7% of all residents in the county are vaccinated and more than 404,000 people have received a booster shot, county data shows. The county started administering COVID-19 shots to young children in November.

Local health officials and experts said vaccines and boosters remain the best defense against infection, serious illness and death. Additional precautions, such as testing, masking and hand-washing, should also be taken, said Dr. B. B. Gerstman, professor emeritus of public health at San Jose State University.

Salinas said the public should understand this virus is here to stay in one form or another.

"We've been hoping that we could get rid of it for good and move on, but I don't think that's going to happen," he said. "We're going to have to live with it. We need to mitigate risks and decrease the chance that we're going to get infected."

This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published on San Jose Spotlight. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2021 at 9:04 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2021 at 9:04 am

This new varient shows only mild symptoms. We should be encouraged by this news as it appears that Covid is weakening. It may be more easily transmissable but the fact that it is getting weaker shows that we are coming to light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn't mean of course that we should be getting complacent and loosening restrictions, but it does mean that the fears many have had over the past 2 years should be lessening and we can continue to live our lives without scares.


Janice Selznick
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 2, 2021 at 9:34 am
Janice Selznick, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2021 at 9:34 am

Agree with Mrs. Bystander: Too early to say for certain, but Omicron appears to be mild and easily spread. Maybe it’ll be that variant that “VACCINATES” everybody! That would be a blessing.

Enough with the mass psychosis!


Just Sayin'
Registered user
another community
on Dec 2, 2021 at 10:44 am
Just Sayin', another community
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2021 at 10:44 am

This headline belies the facts in the article. The only fruitful purpose of presenting it like this would be to scare people into getting vaccinated, which is fine by me!


ProfvilleResident
Registered user
Professorville
on Dec 3, 2021 at 1:11 pm
ProfvilleResident, Professorville
Registered user
on Dec 3, 2021 at 1:11 pm

@bystander, except for the data out today indicating a near vertical hospitalization spike in South Africa, including disproportionately high hospitalizations of kids under five.


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