As Omicron threat looms, local healthcare leaders take a wait-and-see approach

With no local cases yet confirmed, state and local public health officials appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach towards Omicron, the novel coronavirus with disturbing attributes first detected in South Africa.

With the World Health Organization appellation Omicron a “worrying variant” on Thanksgiving Day, and the Biden administration to suspend As non-nationals enter the United States from eight African countries as of Monday, efforts are underway to keep the latest coronavirus threat at bay.

The arrival of a new variant from overseas has not yet sparked public discourse on strengthening relaxed public health measures.

When the Delta variant was first detected in San Diego County in April, the state-level-based reopening system was still in effect and a blanket mask warrant still required face coverings to be made. inside.

The tier system disappeared in June, and the mask’s tenure drastically changed the July 28. While masks are still required in transportation hubs, on airplanes, in healthcare facilities, homeless shelters and K-12 schools, only the unvaccinated are required to wear face covers. in all indoor locations.

Mask usage is currently highly variable, with some organizations requiring universal mask usage while others leave it to individual choice. Vaccination checks seem to be very rare indoors.

When asked on Monday whether Californians should expect a change in mask requirements when Omicron arrives, the only response from the California Department of Public Health was a statement released Sunday. He noted that the state is monitoring the situation and emphasizes that the state’s primary response is to “double down on our vaccination and booster efforts to ensure all Californians have access to safe, effective, and free vaccines that can prevent serious illness and death “.

Individual public health jurisdictions have the ability to be more, but not less, restrictive than the state, but that didn’t appear to be the direction things were going in San Diego County on Monday.

Asked to delineate the point at which it would change pandemic regulations, the county health department declined to draw a particular line in the sand, claiming in a short statement that moves as a more stringent mask warrant in need of more information on “how easily it (Omicron) spreads and if it is more dangerous.

“There is no clear line yet without a better understanding of what this means epidemiologically,” the county statement said. “Until then, the recommendations for the public – indoor masking, vaccination and good hygiene – remain the same as for Delta.”

Those closest to the global effort to spot new variants in nature and estimate their prevalence and threat level have been calling for more mask use and broader vaccination for months.

Kristian Andersen, immunologist and molecular biologist at Scripps Research in San Diego whose lab is at the forefront of the coronavirus genetic analysis effort, noted that prevention efforts have the most power when taken early.

“We have to act now, without a doubt,” Andersen said in an email. “While it is not currently widespread in San Diego, if the first data we have is found to be consistent more generally, it will be there soon enough and will start to spread.”

More robust masks such as the N95 and KN95 types often used by healthcare workers, he said, are warranted, as are faster testing.

“Our main goal is to avoid resorting to blockages, whether partial or complete,” he said. “It will probably take action, and early preparation is much better than late reaction.”

UC San Diego evolutionary biologist Joel Wertheim, a scientist whose research has included tracking the early emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in China, agreed.

“Masking is one of the most effective and underutilized tools we have available to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and I see nothing to suggest that it will not be effective against the Omicron variant,” Wertheim said. “A mask warrant would likely slow its introduction and spread in San Diego County. “

Vaccination, and now booster shots for those whose second injection was six months ago, remains a key way to fight the virus, although the efficacy of the Omicron vaccine is still under investigation.

The county reported Monday that the wait at its vaccination clinics for walk-in people ranged from 90 minutes to two hours. Appointments at county vaccination sites were reportedly made six days in advance. Local health providers, however, did not report a similar request, although Kaiser Permanente said through a spokesperson that he had seen an increase in college-age appointments over the course of the year. of the weekend, probably among the students at home for the holidays.

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