August 16, 2022

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Southern California has its first confirmed case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Los Angeles...

Southern California has its first confirmed case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Los Angeles County public health officials confirmed Thursday evening, Dec. 2, a day after the country’s first case was confirmed in San Francisco.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a Thursday statement that the individual returned to the area after traveling to South Africa, via London, on Nov. 22. The infection, health authorities said, was most likely travel-related.

The new variant, which has sent scientists scrambling to assess its severity, has been confirmed in about two dozen countries so far, but was first identified in South Africa. The LA County case came hours after the U.S. confirmed someone in Minnesota had tested positive for the Omicron variant.

The San Francisco, Minnesota and Los Angeles County cases are all believed to be travel related, with both of the California patients having recently traveled to South Africa; the San Francisco patient returned from South Africa the day the LA County one traveled there.

While much remains unknown about this variant, it may spread more easily than others, including the Delta variant — the coronavirus mutation that preceded Omicron — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization has listed it as a variant of concern.

“CDC has been actively monitoring and preparing for this variant,” the federal health agency said in a statement after the Minnesota case was confirmed. “CDC has expanded its capacity for genomic sequencing over the past nine months and we have more tools to fight the variant than we had at this time last year.”

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The CDC’s statement referred, in part, to the vaccines that are now available.

The Minnesota and California people who tested positive for the Omicron variant were all vaccinated.

The Los Angeles County resident who tested positive for the Omicron variant was fully vaccinated — the people from San Francisco and Minnesota were also vaccinated — and was self-isolating, health officials said. The person’s symptoms are improving without medical care.

A small number of close contacts have also been identified and all have tested negative and had no symptoms so far, officials reported.

“Throughout the pandemic we have always known there would be more mutation, resulting in the possibility of a more dangerous variant than the Delta variant,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s Department of Public Health.