Public Health stresses vaccinations, reports 1st case of Omicron variant

Coronavirus. Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reiterated the importance of testing and vaccination to prevent a winter surge of COVID-19 – in addition to the emergence of a new variant, Omicron, as the county reported its first case of the variant. 

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve always known that there would be more mutations resulting in the possibility of a more dangerous variant than the Delta variant,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said during a press briefing Thursday.  

The World Health Organization detected the Omicron variant, which has been labeled a “variant of concern” by both the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control. According to Ferrer, in the United States, health officials have found cases in California, Minnesota and Colorado.  

The Department of Public Health confirmed its first case of Omicron from an individual who returned to the county after traveling to South Africa. Ferrer said the individual is a fully vaccinated adult and self-isolating. 

“What makes Omicron worrisome is that it has a very unusual constellation of mutations,” said Ferrer. “Of note, some of the mutations to the spike gene could affect the structure enough to increase infectivity, evade immunity and impact response to certain therapeutics.”  

Although the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to be the dominant strain in L.A. County, Ferrer noted they are expecting their first cases of Omicron cases in the coming days.   

“I do want to emphasize that while we’re still learning a lot about transmissibility, the severity of cases, the risk of infection and vaccine effectiveness, there are steps we’re taking to prepare our county,” Ferrer said.  

The Department of Public Health provided residents and its partners with updated information about Omicron and precautionary safety measures, Ferrer said. The county will be working with school districts to reinforce the importance of existing school-based public health requirements and routine testing programs, she added.   

“We also have teams realigning plans for protecting those who are most vulnerable, including those who live and work in skilled nursing facilities, our jails and our shelters,” Ferrer said.  

The federal government implemented travel restrictions to and from South Africa as a precautionary move to reduce the spread of Omicron. Ferrer said the Department of Public Health would establish a voluntary, rapid-testing site at the international terminal of Los Angeles International Airport on Friday.  

“We do encourage everyone 5 and older to get vaccinated or boosted and to do so with a sense of urgency,” Ferrer said. “The vaccines have proven to be effective against the Delta variant. This is what gives us reasonable hope that these same vaccines will provide some protection against Omicron.” 

County Public Health officials also released the following updated COVID-19 statistics Thursday: 

Countywide COVID-19 cases reported in the past 24 hours: 1,970 

Total COVID-19 cases in L.A. County: 1,530,526 

New deaths related to COVID-19 reported in the past 24 hours: 24 

Total COVID-19 deaths in L.A. County: 27, 208 

Hospitalizations countywide: 574 

Hospitalizations at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital as of Nov. 15: 16, with 1,630 discharged since the onset of the pandemic. 

COVID-19 cases reported in the Santa Clarita Valley in the past 24 hours: 102, 80 of which came from the city of Santa Clarita 

Total COVID-19 cases in the SCV: 39,104 

Total COVID-19 deaths in the SCV as of Dec. 1: 360 

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