First reported in late November in South Africa, Omicron is quickly becoming the dominant COVID-19 variant worldwide.

While a variety of unknowns persist regarding the new variant, including the severity of illness it causes and how well it can evade current vaccines and immunity from previous infection, its high rate of transmission suggests it will soon reach Calaveras County, if it hasn’t already.

“Monitoring of Covid is done at all levels local, state, federal and globally. The process of genomic sequencing/screening for Covid variants is done at the level of the state,” Calaveras County Health Officer Dr. René Ramirez told the Enterprise. “Monitoring for the presence of the variant in California through the California SARS-CoV-2 Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative, known as COVIDNet. This is a public-private partnership that provides California with genomic sequencing to help understand and control the spread of COVID-19. COVIDNet gives us the ability to detect variants early.”

The state health department (CDPH) is ramping up its efforts to provide access to vaccinations and boosters in response to Omicron, which is present in California.

Regarding the timing of when we can expect to see Omicron detected in Calaveras County, “the answer is proportionate to the number of cases our county experiences,” Ramirez said. “The more we can prevent/halt the spread of Covid via distancing, masking, testing and vaccinating, the less likely we will be to encounter Covid and all of its variants. However, the less people we have vaccinated, and the more cases our county experiences without masking/separating/testing, then the greater the chance that our community will spread Covid and the more likely we will encounter a variant sooner vs. later.”

So how concerned should residents be when Omicron arrives at their doorstep? Early data suggests that the new variant may be more transmissible than Delta but less severe in the illness that it causes, but top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci stated during a Dec. 7 White House briefing that it is too soon to come to any definitive conclusions. More data is expected next week.

Meanwhile, Ramirez and Calaveras County Public Health are encouraging vaccination, boosters, and the continuation of precautions like social distancing and mask-wearing to prevent the spread of Covid and the development of new variants.

“Calaveras has been consistent in our messaging and follows state, federal and world guidance. … Variants will continue to develop so long as Covid is prevalent. Those that are unvaccinated are more likely to acquire Covid and more likely to suffer serious consequences and clear the virus from their system at a slower rate than compared with vaccinated individuals.” Ramirez said. “Prevention of Covid is paramount to ending this pandemic. The key to prevention is vaccination. Separation of uninfected individuals from infected individuals is another way to prevent spread. Separation is best done by physical distance. Masking also helps to contain (the) spread of aerosolized droplets that may spread the virus or any respiratory virus.”

For more information about Omicron and COVID-19, visit www.cdph.ca.gov.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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