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Saturday, January 22, 2022

COVID-19 omicron variant emerges in Yolo County

Scientists and health officials advise Yolo County residents to be cautious and exercise prevention measures

By LEVI GOLDSTEIN city@theaggie.org

On Dec. 9, 2021the Yolo County Public Information Office issued a press release confirming the presence of the COVID-19 omicron variant in Yolo County. 

According to Project Scientist at the UC Davis Genome Center David Coil, the center uses genotyping on each COVID-19 positive test in Yolo County to determine which mutations are present, which designate the variant of the COVID-19 virus. 

The first individual who tested positive for the omicron variant in Yolo County was quarantined immediately. Since then, an outbreak of the variant occurred at River City High School in West Sacramento, according to a Yolo County press release on Dec. 16, 2021. It is unlikely that the infections were connected.

Dr. Aimee Sisson, the Yolo County Health Officer, commented on the outbreak.

“The detection of an Omicron outbreak at a Yolo County school is not surprising because we already knew that Omicron was present in Yolo County,” she said in a statement for the Dec. 16, 2021 press release. “This outbreak illustrates that the Omicron variant is circulating in our community and is not just a risk for those who have traveled. Omicron is here, and Omicron can spread quickly.”

According to Sisson, as of Dec. 22, 2021, 81% of new COVID-19 cases in Yolo County were omicron. In addition to its high transmissibility, Sisson is concerned about omicron because those who were previously infected and those who are vaccinated do not have immunity. 

However, Sisson said that this does not mean that vaccines are unimportant or ineffective. 

“The vaccines are still very protective against really bad outcomes,” she said. “I don’t want people to get the idea that [because] omicron has immune escape, there’s no point in getting vaccinated. You may still get infected, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll end up getting very sick or dying from omicron if you’re fully vaccinated.”

According to new studies, omicron seems to have less severe symptoms than other variants, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous for other reasons. 

“It appears initially, based on reports coming from other countries, that omicron causes less severe disease on the whole,” Sisson said. “I think the concern that I and many other public health leaders have is that there’s going to be so many people infected overall that that could mean that we have more people requiring hospital care than we actually have hospital beds.”

Yolo County plans to focus new COVID-19 policies on additional protections for the most vulnerable population, according to Sisson. All existing COVID-19 policies and procedures will stay in place. 

Coil said that existing protection measures are efficient in stopping the spread of omicron. But he is also anxious about whether people will continue to do the right thing. 

“Now is not the time to get lax,” Coil said. “Now is not the time to have big holiday parties. We have to be really careful and get through this wave.”

Sisson and Coil both said they urge Yolo residents to get vaccinated, get their booster shots and continue wearing high-quality masks in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Concern about omicron has led to the UC system implementing varying plans for remote learning and additional safety measures. Learn more about COVID-19 procedures at UC Davis at https://www.ucdavis.edu/coronavirus. The California Aggie is also regularly updating a breaking news story with UC Davis plans for winter quarter. 

Written by: Levi Goldstein — city@theaggie.org

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