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California Officials Say They’re Prepared for Omicron Variant

todayDecember 1, 2021 4

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As officials scrambled to contain alarm over the detection of a case of the Omicron variant in California, state leaders portrayed the finding as an encouraging — and inevitable — result of the state’s efforts to be prepared.

“This was predictable,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday in the Central Valley, where he encouraged residents to get vaccinated and get booster shots. “And it was not surprising that the state of California detected it.”

State health officials said the discovery of the Omicron variant would prompt increased Covid-19 testing at California airports, focusing on arrivals from countries identified by the C.D.C. as potential sources of the variant.

However, Mr. Newsom — who beat back a recall effort in September that was fueled in part by resistance to the state’s pandemic health restrictions — suggested that for now at least, the state would not tighten public health rules or close schools.

Mr. Newsom said there were “no indications” that such restrictions would be needed “as long as we continue our nation-leading efforts.”

State officials had said it would be only a matter of time until the Omicron variant appeared on the West Coast. California is a first U.S. stop or a destination for millions of global travelers, and as recently as Sunday, the state’s Department of Public Health had said that officials were monitoring for signs that the variant had arrived.

Mr. Newsom said the infected patient — a fully vaccinated resident of San Francisco between the ages of 18 and 49 — had been tested after traveling to South Africa, the region where the variant was first detected.

The patient, he said, had landed in California on Nov. 22, developed Covid-19 symptoms three days later and was tested on Nov. 28. The variant was confirmed by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, the next day.

San Francisco public health officials said the individual was self-isolating, experiencing mild symptoms and assisting with contact tracing.

The governor said the state has partnered with top scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, to sequence Covid-19 cases, built up testing and succeeded in vaccinating many of its residents.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services, went so far as to say that Californians were “proud” to have identified the Omicron case.

Almost 80 percent of California residents have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, after months of campaigning by state officials. Cases and hospitalizations have been inching mostly downward since a summer rise driven by the Delta variant — though hospitals in areas like the Central Valley, where fewer residents are vaccinated, have filled.

In San Francisco, officials sought to reassure residents.

“San Francisco has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest death rates in the country because of the actions our residents have taken from the beginning of this pandemic to keep each other safe,” San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed said in a statement. “We knew that it was only a matter of time until the Omicron variant was detected in our city, and the work that we have done to this point has prepared us to handle this variant.”

In the Bay Area, longstanding mask mandates — some of the state’s most enduring restrictions — have recently been relaxed as the spread of the virus has slowed. Local governments in the Bay Area and in other parts of the state have begun to require businesses to verify vaccination status for entry, and more workers have been required to get their shots — a trend that officials have credited with helping to curtail the transmission of Covid.

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todayDecember 1, 2021 4