A college student who traveled to the East Coast for the Thanksgiving holiday was confirmed Monday as Los Angeles County’s second known case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, prompting a renewed call for people who traveled internationally or to areas with high virus transmission rates to get tested.
The latest Omicron variant patient is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, had mild symptoms and is in isolation, according to the county Department of Public Health. The agency indicated that based on the person’s travel history, “it is likely that the infection was acquired outside of Los Angeles County.” The person’s close contacts have been identified, and all are being tested and placed in quarantine.
The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, and it has now spread to dozens of other countries, and multiple U.S. states. The first U.S. case was confirmed Wednesday in San Francisco, and Los Angeles County confirmed its first case one day later.
That patient is a Los Angeles County resident who returned to the area Nov. 22 after traveling to South Africa via London. The infection was also deemed to be “most likely travel related.” The unidentified patient is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and has symptoms that are improving, health officials said. The person’s close contacts have all tested negative for the virus.
It is still unclear if the Omicron variant is more highly transmissible than other forms of the virus, or if it causes more severe illness or can evade the protection offered by current vaccines. But its rapid spread in South Africa has raised alarms, particularly ahead of the winter holiday season and accompanying travel and gatherings.
“While we are still determining the transmissibility and the severity of Omicron, I encourage residents and travelers to take additional steps to protect yourself and those around you by getting vaccinated or boosters, tested if you feel sick or are a close contact, and wearing your mask,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Layering on as many protections as possible will give us a better opportunity to slow the spread of this potentially dangerous variant as we prepare for holiday gatherings and a potential winter surge.”
County officials urged people to get tested if they traveled internationally over the holidays, or if they visited places with high rates of COVID-19 transmission. A testing location can be found online at covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/.
Out of concern for the Omicron variant and its potential impact, Los Angeles County has modified its public health order, requiring all residents, staff and contractors at skilled nursing facilities to undergo COVID testing at least once a week, regardless of vaccination status. All visitors to skilled nursing facilities will have to provide proof of either a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of the visit, or a negative antigen test taken within 24 hours of the visit. Antigen tests will be made available for visitors at the nursing facilities.
People who have proof of a documented recovery from a COVID infection within 90 days will be exempted from the weekly testing requirement or the negative-test requirement for visiting a nursing facility.
The temporary order will be in effect beginning Dec. 15 and continuing through Jan. 31.
Los Angeles County has begun seeing a slight rise in daily COVID-19 infections numbers in recent days, possibly a reflection of Thanksgiving holiday gatherings. Hospitalizations due to the virus have also climbed upward, again topping 600 on Monday.
According to state figures, there were 629 COVID-19-positive people in Los Angeles County hospitals as of Monday, up from 595 on Sunday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 151, up from 146 a day earlier.
The county on Monday reported 1,103 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths associated with the virus — low numbers that likely reflect weekend reporting delays.
The county has logged 1,537,450 cases and 27,248 fatalities since the pandemic began.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 1.2% as of Monday.
A rapid-testing site opened at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday to offer free — but voluntary — COVID tests for arriving international passengers. The COVID testing at the Tom Bradley International Terminal is being offered strictly on a voluntary basis, since there is no federal requirement for inbound passengers to be tested.
New federal travel guidelines now require people traveling into the country from international locations be tested within one day of departure.
So far, 83% of county residents aged 12 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 74% are fully vaccinated. Of all eligible residents aged 5 and over, 76% have received at least one dose, and 68% are fully vaccinated.
Black residents continue to have the lowest rate of vaccinated, with just 55% having received at least one dose. The rate is 60% among Latino/a residents, 73% among white residents and 82% among Asians.
According to the latest county figures, of the more than 6.1 million fully vaccinated people in the county, 80,445 have tested positive, or about 1.32%. A total of 2,680 vaccinated people have been hospitalized, for a rate of 0.044%, and 503 have died, for a rate of 0.008%.