First published in the Dec. 4, 2021, print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has made its way to Los Angeles County, with officials reporting the first confirmed case on Thursday.
The individual who tested positive for COVID-19 had traveled to South Africa last month, according to the county’s public health department, and is fully vaccinated. The department also said the individual is self-isolating, with symptoms improving without medical care.
There is good news, however, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden: Getting vaccinated will help keep people healthy.
“We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of Omicron would be detected in the United States,” Fauci told reporters on Wednesday. “We know what we need to do to protect people: Get vaccinated if you’re not already vaccinated.
“When you get a high enough level of immune response, you get spillover protection against a variant that the vaccine wasn’t specifically directed at.”
Burbank continues to have a relatively high vaccination rate. According to the L.A. County public health department, 78.8% of Burbank residents 5 and older have received at least one dose and 29.9% of 7,483 children 5-11 in the city are inoculated.
The county has reported 11,741 cumulative coronavirus cases and 263 deaths in Burbank.
As of Wednesday, more than 20 countries have reported Omicron variant cases but little is known about the new strain, which the World Health Organization designated as a “variant of concern.” Fauci said the molecular profile suggests it is more transmissible and might elude protection from current COVID-19 vaccines.
As information about the Omicron variant evolves, Fauci said one thing is certain: Getting vaccinated against the coronavirus and following health orders and guidelines, such as wearing a mask indoors, can reduce transmission and protect individuals from severe symptoms.
With a population of more than 10 million, L.A. County has administered more than 14.6 million doses of the vaccine against COVID-19, and 14% of children aged 5-11 have received at least one dose.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strengthened its recommendations on boosters on Monday and now recommends all Americans 18 and older to get an additional shot six months after their primary Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccinations or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.
“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness.
“I also want to encourage people to get a COVID-19 test if they are sick. Increased testing will help us identify Omicron quickly,” Walensky added.
Gov. Gavin Newsom echoed the CDC’s and Fauci’s suggestions and urged Californians to “double down on our vigilance” going further into the winter season.
“I want to remind people it’s not just pharmaceutical interventions, meaning boosters,” Newsom said on Wednesday. “It’s not just getting the vaccine; it’s also using common sense when you’re in large indoor crowds and environments with a lot of strangers, people (who) have not been part of your cohort or group, to be mindful of the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions like wearing face coverings, wearing masks, continuing to practice just common sense and hygiene.”
Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer shared a similar message to the county Board of Supervisors and said that no changes to the current health order — which includes a blanket mandate requiring residents, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors in public settings — are being considered yet.
“At this moment, we have really, I think, sensible precautions in place,” Ferrer said of the health orders, which is one of the strictest in the state. “We do know that our best strategy right now remains getting vaccines into the arms of people.”