What Is It? What do we know? What can we do?
What do we know about Omicron?
A new variant called Omicron was identified in South Africa and designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on November 26th and by the Centers for Disease Control on November 30th.
Omicron has an unusual number of mutations, more than 30 of which are in the spike protein, which is the “door key” the virus uses to enter and infect humans. This could be concerning because mutations to the spike protein could increase how contagious the virus is or if it has the ability to escape from vaccine protection.
Early signs indicate that Omicron spreads quickly, as it is now the dominate strain in South Africa, where it was originally identified.
To date, there are over 35 countries that have identified Omicron cases so far including within the United States, including 3 so far detected in Los Angeles County as of today. At this point in time, it appears that current antigen and PCR tests detect the variant.
Scientists are racing to find early clues to these important questions and more understanding about Omicron is expected over the next several weeks.
What can we do now? The most effective tool remains the vaccines, and we encourage everyone 5 and older not yet vaccinated or boosted to do so with a sense of urgency. The vaccines are effective against the Delta variant and very effective against earlier strains of the virus, which gives us hope that these same vaccines will also provide some protection against Omicron.
Residents can walk-in to any Public Health vaccination site or make an appointment at the hundreds of sites across the county to get vaccinated. For more information, they can visit VaccinateLACounty.com.
Residents who have traveled for the holidays should also get tested if they traveled internationally or to locations in this country with high transmission rates, or they participated at gatherings and events with large numbers of people. There are free testing sites throughout the county and individuals can go to https://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/ to find out information about where to get tested. Residents must also isolate if they have a positive COVID test result and quarantine if they are a vaccinated close contact with symptoms or if they are an unvaccinated close contact.
All residents across LA County should continue following masking protocols, which require residents to wear a mask when indoors or at large outdoor mega events – regardless of vaccination status. Individuals should also wear a mask when at any crowded indoor or outdoor events.