First published in the Dec. 3 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has made its way to the United States with the first reported case in California, federal health officials announced on Wednesday.
There is good news, however, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden: Getting vaccinated will help keep people healthy.
“We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of Omicron would be detected in the United States,” Fauci told reporters on Wednesday. “We know what we need to do to protect people: get vaccinated if you’re not already vaccinated.
“When you get a high enough level of immune response, you get spillover protection against a variant that the vaccine wasn’t specifically directed at.”
South Pasadena continues to have one of the highest vaccination rates across age groups. According to county, 84.3% of South Pasadena residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including 90% of residents 65 and older and virtually all children ages 12-17.
Since the two-dose Pfizer vaccine was given emergency use approval for 5- to 11-year-olds, 61.2% of South Pasadena’s children in that group have gotten their first dose, according to the county.
With 1,786 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Pasadena throughout the duration of the pandemic, the city has one of the lowest case rates in L.A. County with 6,855 per 100,000 residents. Of those, there have been 49 deaths attributed to the disease in South Pasadena.
A San Francisco resident tested positive with the new variant on Nov. 29 after returning from South Africa. The individual — who was fully vaccinated — appears “to be improving” after experiencing mild symptoms and is currently self-quarantining, according to Fauci.
All those considered to be close contacts to the individual were notified and have tested negative for COVID-19 so far, he added.
As of Wednesday, more than 20 countries have reported Omicron variant cases but little is known about the new strain, which the World Health Organization designated as a “variant of concern.” Fauci said the molecular profile would suggest it to be more transmissible and possibly elude protection from current COVID-19 vaccines.
As information about the Omicron variant continues to evolve, Fauci said one thing is certain: getting vaccinated against the coronavirus and following health orders and guidelines, such as wearing a mask in indoor congregate settings, can reduce transmission and protect individuals from severe symptoms.
With a population of more than 10 million, L.A. County has administered more than 14.5 million doses of the vaccine against COVID-19, and 13.4% of children ages 5-11 have received at least one dose.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strengthened its recommendations on boosters on Monday and now endorses all Americans 18 and older to get an additional shot six months after their primary Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccinations or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine.
“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness.
“I also want to encourage people to get a COVID-19 test if they are sick. Increased testing will help us identify Omicron quickly.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom echoed the CDC’s and Fauci’s suggestions and urged Californians to “double down on our vigilance” going further into the winter season and those eligible to get one of the three booster shots available.
“I want to remind people it’s not just pharmaceutical interventions, meaning boosters,” Newsom said on Wednesday. “It’s not just getting the vaccines; it’s also using common sense when you’re in large indoor crowds and environments with a lot of strangers, people that have not been part of your cohort or group, to be mindful of the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions like wearing face coverings, wearing masks, continuing to practice just common sense and hygiene.”
Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer shared a similar message to the county Board of Supervisors and said that no changes to the current health order — which includes a blanket mandate requiring residents, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors in public settings — are being considered yet.
“At this moment, we have really, I think, sensible precautions in place,” Ferrer said of the health orders, which is one of the strictest in the state. “ … We do know that our best strategy right now remains getting vaccines in to the arms of people.”