After California detected the first case of the omicron variant in the U.S., Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said there’s no indication the state could see more shut downs.
Instead, the governor urged Californians to get vaccinated and remain vigilant.
“Doubling down on what we’re doing is the most important message I think we can communicate so we can avoid any shutdowns and we can avoid shutting down our schools or businesses,” Newsom said during a media briefing. “None of us want to see that happen. I certainly don’t want to see that happen. And I see no indication at this moment, whatsoever, that that’s in our immediate future — as long as we continue our nation’s leading efforts.”
The governor’s media briefing came after the announcement that a traveler who returned to California from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29 had the omicron variant.
The patient, who was experiencing “mild symptoms,” had been vaccinated, but had not received a booster shot, officials said.
The virus sample was sequenced by UC San Francisco within 24 hours after the traveler’s positive test result.
Those who the patient reported coming into contact with have not tested positive for the coronavirus, Newsom said Wednesday.
Finding a case of the omicron variant was expected, the governor said
“We are not surprised by this,” the governor said. “This was predictable.”
He added that it’s also not surprising that it was California that first detected the variant in the country, touting the state’s virus sequencing efforts and aggressive testing protocols.
The omicron variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa and designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization. It has been found in several counties since.
The worrisome new variant, which carries mutations that may impact infectiousness, prompted swift travel restrictions across international borders as work got underway to determine whether it is more contagious, more deadly or resistant to vaccines.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said the fact that the omicron patient in San Francisco only had mild symptoms reinforces the need to get vaccinated.
“The evidence that an individual with omicron identified by sequencing actually has mild symptoms is improving, I think is a testimony to the importance of the vaccinations,” Ghaly said.
In Los Angeles County, Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that since the vaccines have been effective against the delta variant, which is widespread in the county, there is hope that the same shots will be able to provide protection against the new variant.
“The most effective tool remain the vaccines and we do encourage everyone five and older, not yet vaccinated or boosted to do so with a sense of urgency,” Ferrer said in an L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
Officials urged residents not to panic.
“The panic has gotten ahead of the information, but clearly, this is a variant that has generated appropriate amount of international attention,” Newsom said.
State and L.A. County officials stressed that Californians are a lot more prepared this year than they were last year, during the winter surge that overwhelmed hospitals and filled up morgues.
More than 76% of Californians aged 5 and older have so far been vaccinated with at least one dose, according to state data.
“While we may be fatigued, we also can be way more hopeful that we got tools at hand that will prevent many people from dying if only we continue to work together,” Ferrer said.
She urged masking up in crowded spaces and getting vaccinated.
Similarly, Ghaly said “we haven’t panicked in California in quite some time” because of all that the state has done to prepare.
Still, he said it’s important for more people to get vaccinated and be careful.
“We do expect that, over time, we will have additional cases and that’s why we need to keep our guard up,“ Ghaly said.