Riverside County reports its 1st case of omicron variant

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A transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles within endosomes of a heavily infected nasal Olfactory Epithelial Cell.( NIAID)

A transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles within endosomes of a heavily infected nasal Olfactory Epithelial Cell.( NIAID)

Riverside County has detected its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant, health officials announced Friday.

The omicron case involves a 41-year-old fully vaccinated man from the western portion of Riverside County, authorities said in a news release.

Riverside County health officials said they are looking into whether the man had traveled before being tested for the coronavirus in Los Angeles County on Dec. 8.

His sample tested positive for the virus and was sent to a laboratory for genome sequencing, which revealed that it was the omicron variant.

“We knew that it was likely the variant would eventually arrive in Riverside County, so this is no surprise or cause for widespread concern,” local public health director Kim Saruwatari said. “The same steps that helped protect us against the virus in the past remain in place.”

Nearby Los Angeles County reported 12 new confirmed cases of the omicron variant on Thursday, bringing the total to 30 known cases in the county. That number does not include at least two cases reported by Long Beach, which has its own public health department.

The omicron variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa last month and dubbed a variant of concern due to its many mutations. Since then, it was reported in at least 77 countries.

The first U.S. case was announced on Dec. 1 in San Francisco. The case involved a traveler who had returned to California from South Africa late last month.

As of Friday, just over two weeks after the first case was detected, California has reported 49 cases of the omicron variant statewide, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

South African researchers have said that the omicron variant appears to cause less severe disease than previous versions of the coronavirus, but that the Pfizer vaccine seems to offer less defense against it.

However, the vaccine is still good protection from hospitalization, according to an analysis of data from South Africa.

Pfizer has said that a booster of its COVID-19 vaccine may offer important protection against omicron, even though the initial two doses appear significantly less effective.

While scientists have yet to confirm whether the new variant is resistant to vaccines, companies are already working to update their COVID-19 shots, just in case.

Riverside County public health officer Dr. Geoffrey Leung said the discovery of the omicron variant in the county serves as a reminder of the importance of taking steps to stop the spread of COVID-19, including getting vaccinated and boosted.

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