The first case of the COVID-19 omicron variant has been identified in Santa Clara County, health officials said on Friday morning.
The county's Public Health Department learned of the case on Thursday, Dec. 9. The resident is in isolation, was fully vaccinated and had not received a booster shot. The resident recently returned from domestic travel out of state. The individual was just coming due for their booster shot, which they planned to have this month, Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health officer and director of public health, said during a press conference on Friday.
The resident was from the north county area — Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills or Stanford, Cody said. She emphasized the person's illness was "very mild" and the county has informed all of the person's contacts.
In addition to the reported case, the omicron variant was detected on Dec. 7 for the first time in sewershed surveillance, Cody said. The county tracks four wastewater sewersheds for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants each day. The omicron variant was found in the north county sewershed, which, in addition to the Los Altos Hills-to-Stanford area includes a sliver of East Palo Alto in San Mateo County.
She said the department was anticipating that the omicron variant was probably already present in the county but had not yet been detected locally.
The new case does not come as a surprise, the county said in a Friday press release. The reported case, in conjunction with rising case counts in the county, Bay Area and across the state, serves as a reminder for residents to adopt preventive measures, including vaccinations and booster shots, to best protect themselves and the community, health officials said. The county has expanded giving booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine to people ages 16 and 17 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's approval on Thursday. Appointments are available to anyone ages 16 and older.
"Although there are still many unknowns about this variant, we strongly recommend getting vaccinated and getting your booster if you haven't already to help guard against omicron. It is a new variant, but we know what to do, and that's to continue with all our layers of protection: vaccinate, boost, mask, ventilate, distance, and test often," Cody said in the statement.
COVID-19 case rates are also going "straight up" among the unvaccinated, at more than 80 cases per 100,000 residents per day. With a population of nearly 2 million, that's approximately 1,600 cases a day.
Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county's COVID-19 vaccine officer, also emphasized the importance of booster shots. The county is approaching 80% of fully vaccinated eligible residents, one of the highest rates in the country, but it's not enough. So far, only about 39% of the eligible population ages 16 and up have received their booster. The percentage of younger people ages 18 to 49 is far lower at only 20%, he said.
"The main message now is the importance of boosters — two initial shots are not enough. Boosters have been shown to offer a great deal of additional protection from serious COVID-19 infection," he said.
Masking, testing, ventilation and distancing also continue to be the best defenses against COVID-19, health officials said. As the holiday season advances, people should stay mindful of risks.
Health officials recommend people take the following precautions if they must travel or gather for the holidays:
• Get tested immediately before travel, upon return, and again three to five days later.
• Have everyone ages 5 and older get their COVID-19 vaccine.
• Have everyone ages 16 and older get their COVID-19 booster.
• Wear a mask indoors and in crowded settings. Wearing medical-grade masks and adjusting masks so they fit tightly are important.
• Keep group gatherings small in both size and duration. Gather only with close family units.
• Outside gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings.
• Be cautious around elderly or immunocompromised individuals and consider COVID-19 testing before such interactions.
Parents of very young children and those who have not been vaccinated should make sure to take all of the recommended precautions. They're advised to avoid large gatherings and always wear a mask in indoor public settings and in crowded outdoor settings, unless the child is under age 2.
Fenstersheib said that nearly 40% of children ages 5 to 11 have received at least one vaccine. Children living in the eastern and southern parts of the county where many Latino and Black residents live have vaccination rates far lower than other areas of the county. Officials are trying to improve the disparity by adding more clinics at school and they urge parents to have their children vaccinated during the winter school break.
Vaccinations through the county are no-cost to the public, insurance is not required, and there are no immigration requirements.
Vaccination appointments at county clinics are available at sccfreevax.org. Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all available within the county. Many doctor offices and pharmacies provide COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters. Appointments can also be made at myturn.ca.gov.