Omicron variant is likely in LA — so vaccines, masks and tests are super important: Barbara Ferrer

By Kathryn Barnes

The U.S. confirmed its first case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California today. According to the CDC, a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22 has the newly mutated strain, as tested by UC San Francisco.

There are still no confirmed Omicron cases in Southern California, but according to Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, it’s likely already in LA.

“We should anticipate that,” she says.

The big question scientists and public health officials are trying to answer around the world is whether Omicron is more resistant to vaccines and treatments than other variants, and therefore more dangerous.

Until that answer is known, Ferrer says residents should rely on what’s already in our toolkits, especially as we travel and gather for the holidays.

“Masking becomes a super important layer of protection,” she says, along with vaccinations and testing.

“We all remember the disaster of the spring of 2020,” she says. “We couldn't get people tested. We didn't even know who was infected. We don't have that problem anymore. And as a matter of fact, this would be a time to remind people that testing is an important tool. If you've had exposures, if you've got some symptoms, if you've done some travel, particularly internationally, go ahead and get tested.”

Ferrer says a stay-at-home order will only go into effect if the county has exhausted all other preventative measures.

“I don't want to say there's never a scenario where we have to go back home. You've seen in other countries where they've had such a big surge that they've been, really in some ways, forced to go back to these more drastic measures. But we're doing much better here in California. And my hope is that we continue to do much better,” says Ferrer.

Currently, 82% of residents age 12 and older in LA County are at least partially vaccinated, which makes Ferrer optimistic. But pain and loss remain. On Tuesday, LA County reported more than 500 people hospitalized for COVID-19, and 28 more deaths.