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OC Health Care Agency urges vaccination, testing and prevention in response to emergence of new Omicron variant

On November 26, the World Health Organization declared a new COVID-19 strain, B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern (VOC) named Omicron based on early evidence that it has several mutations that can impact how it is transmitted.

Generally, if a variant is thought to be more contagious or likely to cause greater illness or severe disease, or may impact treatment or vaccine response, then it is considered a VOC. More is still being learned about how the Omicron variant spreads, infects people, and responds to vaccines. It is currently unknown if Omicron causes more severe COVID-19 illness than other variants or how it might impact response to treatment.

“Although we are still learning about this new variant, it’s important to understand that new versions of the virus will continue to emerge as long as there are large proportions of people who are unvaccinated,” says Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, Deputy County Health Officer. “Please know that vaccination remains the most effective way to reduce everyone’s risk of getting sick, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19. Over 90% of people who are hospitalized due to COVID continue to be those who are unvaccinated. With vaccines widely available throughout Orange County, we strongly encourage you to complete your recommended shots if you are not fully vaccinated or are eligible to receive a booster dose.”

Residents who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or are eligible for their booster dose are encouraged to access the most convenient option available to them to get their shot, including pediatricians’ offices, local retail pharmacies, healthcare providers, or online at Vaccines.gov, MyTurn.ca.gov, or Othena.com. For more information on where to go for a vaccine, visit COVIDVaccineFacts.com and click on “Find a COVID-19 Vaccine”.

“In light of the Omicron variant being detected in multiple countries internationally over the last several days including Canada and perhaps inevitably here in the U.S., I wanted to remind our residents and visitors to adhere to guidelines for domestic and international travel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said Dr. Clayton Chau, OC Health Care Agency Director and County Health Officer.

For individuals who are fully vaccinated:

  • You can travel safely within the U.S. without being required to test or quarantine
  • If you are traveling internationally, check your destination’s COVID-19 situation and travel requirements before traveling, as countries may have their own entry and exit requirements. You are also required to show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 3 days before traveling back to the U.S. from a foreign country. After returning to the U.S., get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel and self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms

For individuals who are not fully vaccinated:

  • Please delay travel until you are fully vaccinated
  • If you must travel, get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before travel and 3-5 days after travel, and stay home and self-quarantine for 7 full days after travel, even if you test negative (10 days if you don’t get tested). International travelers must also provide a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 1 day before traveling back to the U.S. from a foreign country

Testing continues to be a critical component of the County’s strategy to reduce viral transmission. Self-collection, at-home COVID-19 test kits are available by visiting ochealthinfo.com/covidtest. These tests are available at no cost, may be used conveniently at home, and comes with a prepaid shipping return label. Regardless of vaccination status, those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who may have been exposed to COVID-19 due to gathering or traveling over the holidays are strongly encouraged to seek testing to support early detection, prevent the spread of possible variants, and protect loved ones.

Wearing masks in indoor public places is also highly encouraged to slow the spread of COVID-19 variants and is required for people who are not fully vaccinated. Regardless of vaccination status, everyone must wear a mask over the nose and mouth at all times on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

“Despite the emergence of the Omicron variant, there is still much we can do now to reduce the possibility of another surge in COVID-19 infections,” says Dr. Chinsio-Kwong. “Vaccination, testing and prevention are all important ways for us to fight a potential surge and the spread of new variants.”

Status of COVID-19 Cases in Orange County

Between November 24 and November 30, the seven-day average COVID-19 case rate dropped from 7.5 to 6.3 per 100,000 people and the average number of daily COVID-19 cases decreased from 242 to 204. The positivity rate also declined from 2.7 to 2.3 percent, hospitalizations increased slightly from 188 to 196, and ICU admissions increased slightly from 49 to 52 per day.

For more information on COVID-19 information and resources, including case counts, vaccination and testing in Orange County, visit ochealthinfo.com/covid.

This article was released by the OC Health Care Agency.