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Orange County officials urge caution as Omicron variant appears in California

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong and Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley during a COVID-19 update.
Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, right, deputy health officer for Orange County, goes over items in a saliva collection kit with Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley, left, during a COVID-19 update regarding the Omicron variant on Friday at the Costa Mesa Senior Center.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

As the first cases of the Omicron variant on record in the United States have been announced this week, Orange County officials are doubling down on a message of caution.

Amid the news of the Omicron variant, countries around the world have taken proactive measures against the spread of the virus, some imposing mandatory quarantines or closing their borders to international travelers.

The county is making testing widely available again, including the delivery of salivary and nasal swab testing through the mail. Take-home test kits are also set to become available at John Wayne Airport beginning Dec. 8.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to get testing,” Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said. “We just want to make sure that everyone has access to testing. If you’re sick, please stay home, get a test because you might have COVID. It might not hospitalize you, but you could spread it to others.”

A saliva collection kit during a COVID-19 update regarding the Omicron variant on Friday at the Costa Mesa Senior Center.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The coronavirus pandemic ushered in sweeping lifestyle changes in March 2020, as mask-wearing and testing became the new normal. Orange County residents have largely responded to the opportunity to get vaccinated against the virus.

Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, a deputy health officer for Orange County, said that 65% of all county residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 71% of residents of all ages have received at least one dose.

As of Friday morning, no cases of the Omicron variant had been identified in Orange County, although one had been discovered in Los Angeles County. The nation’s first case of the Omicron variant was found in San Francisco.

“I want to say that we got to be careful because Thanksgiving just happened,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “People just had their gatherings, and sometimes it takes time for people to test or have symptoms. We may see a rise, and hopefully people were good during Thanksgiving, were careful, and maybe we won’t.

“I think it is important for all of us to take precaution as we see other states are seeing rises in cases, and we want to protect our loved ones, we want to protect our healthcare workers and our frontline essential workers from getting sick.”

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley, left, speaks about a saliva collection kit with Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley, left, speaks about a saliva collection kit with Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, right, during a COVID-19 update regarding the Omicron variant on Friday at the Costa Mesa Senior Center.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

There are worries in the health community about COVID-19 fatigue, that people may let their guard down around the holidays. The advice for this holiday season carries the same tune as last year. It is recommended that gatherings be kept small and that safety protocols such as face coverings and physical distancing be followed.

Chinsio-Kwong advocated for continued testing, even among the vaccinated.

“The concern is that if you have it, we need you to isolate so you’re not going to continue to transmit and infect others,” Chinsio-Kwong said. “We want to control this as much as possible until we learn more about how infectious this is and how much severe illness this may cause.”

Orange County reported seven deaths due to the virus in Friday’s update from the Orange County Health Care Agency. The loss of life attributed to the pandemic in the county now stands at 5,756. There were also 356 new coronavirus infections reported.

Patients wait in line at a vaccine clinic on Friday at the Costa Mesa Senior Center.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

In the summer, the Delta variant resulted in a resurgence of the virus. There was a line out the door for the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Costa Mesa Senior Center for much of Friday morning.

Chris Kelly of Ladera Ranch was in line to get his booster shot. He said that until he learns more about the Omicron variant, it would be a consideration in the decisions he makes.

“For work travel, it’s regional in kind of like six to eight states on the West Coast,” Kelly said. “I don’t anticipate the variant changing that. I hope it doesn’t, but if it does, then we’ll adjust.

“I did travel for Thanksgiving. I went back east on a plane, but that was kind of before the Omicron stuff started to pop. If I had a chance to do that over again, would I maybe have stayed home? Maybe. Hard to say.”

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