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With Omicron spreading across the United States with stunning speed, California officials and experts are trying to game how the highly infectious variant of the coronavirus will spread through the state and exactly what the response should be to the threat.

There remains much unknown about Omicron, but experts say it has the potential to overwhelm hospitals, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates. It’s also possible that parts of highly vaccinated coastal California might be able to withstand the variant better than inland areas, which have struggled with getting residents inoculated as well as promoting mask wearing in indoor public places.

The San Francisco Bay Area has some of the highest vaccination rates in state, and officials there believe that could help slow Omicron. By contrast, experts are especially nervous about places with low vaccination rates, like the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley. L.A. and Orange counties, whose vaccination rates are somewhere in between, may see an impact that falls in the middle.

One possibility is that the Bay Area will see a relatively small jump in hospitalizations; L.A. County, a medium jump and the Central Valley the highest jump, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco.

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