‘Only a matter of time’: Omicron variant concerns prompt warnings in California as officials urge masking, testing, vaccines

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While no cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have so far been identified in the U.S., California and Los Angeles County health officials are warning about the worrisome new variant.

“There are currently no cases in the United States; however, based on other variants, it is only a matter of time before Omicron is detected in the United States,” California Department of Public Health officials said over the weekend.

Health officials said they’re monitoring for the presence of the variant in California using genome sequencing.

So far in L.A. County, the delta variant remains the dominate variant and continues to account for 100% of cases sequenced, the L.A. County Department of Public Health said Saturday.

Still, the omicron variant is particularly concerning because it has many mutations that impact the virus’ infectiousness and the ability for immune systems to protect from infection.

Some of the mutations are very different from those in other, previously detected variants.

The omicron variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa and designated a “variant of concern” last week, prompting travel restrictions across the world as work got underway to determine whether it is more contagious, more deadly or resistant to vaccines.

So far, omicron has been detected in several countries including in Canada, according to the Washington Post.

Health officials said it’s important for residents to take extra precautions to protect against COVID-19.

That includes getting vaccinated and receiving a booster as quickly as possible.

“The vaccines are effective against the Delta variant and earlier strains of the virus which allows us to remain hopeful that the approved vaccines will also provide some protection against Omicron,” L.A. County health department officials said in a statement.

“However, given that there continues to be substantial transmission of COVID-19 and we have uncertainty about the level of vaccine efficacy against this new variant of concern, all residents across LA County need to be sure to adhere to the masking requirements and wear a mask when indoors or at large outdoor mega events regardless of vaccination status,” officials urged.

In addition to masking up, L.A. County residents are being asked to get tested if they’ve traveled for the holidays or recently gathered in large numbers.

“While we are still learning much about Omicron, we know enough about COVID to take steps now that can reduce transmission as we prepare to better understand the additional strategies that may needed to mitigate this new variant of concerns,” L.A. County health officials said.

State officials said California is preparing to ramp up coronavirus testing at airports statewide for U.S. citizens and residents returning from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Travelers from those countries are being asked to get tested within three to five days after their arrival, and to quarantine for a week.

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