Long Beach health officials confirmed that city's first known case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 Tuesday, one day after Los Angeles County reported its second and third cases of the variant that was first detected in South Africa.
According to Long Beach officials, the patient is fully vaccinated and is not showing any symptoms of COVID. The person returned to Long Beach on Nov. 29 after traveling internationally, but not to the southern African region, officials said.
Long Beach has its own health department separate from Los Angeles County, which on Monday confirmed two more cases of the Omicron variant, bringing its total to three.
The county cases confirmed Monday were a USC student who traveled to the East Coast for the Thanksgiving holiday and an individual who recently traveled from West Africa.
The USC student 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.
USC officials issued a statement saying the case was detected "as part of USC's routine surveillance testing program,'' adding that all of the person's close contacts had been identified and were in quarantine.
"The individual did not attend classes or organized activities on campus during their infectious period,'' according to the university.
The individual who recently traveled from West Africa is also fully vaccinated against COVID-19, had mild symptoms and is self-isolating. The person's known close contacts are fully vaccinated and have tested negative, according to the department.
"This latest case of the Omicron variant in Los Angeles County underscores how critical safety measures are while traveling,'' county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. "These requirements include a negative test before boarding your flight, wearing a mask, and not traveling while you are sick. Residents should also consider delaying travel until their and all of their traveling companions are fully vaccinated.''
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 last Wednesday in San Francisco, and Los Angeles County confirmed its first case one day later.
The first Los Angeles County Omicron patient is a 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 raised alarms, particularly ahead of the winter holiday season and accompanying travel and gatherings.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, indicated Tuesday that early observations of Omicron cases suggest the variant may not present the same level of danger as the earlier Delta variant, which fueled a rapid increase in cases earlier this year and is still considered the dominant strain of COVID in the United States.
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/.
The county on Tuesday reported 15 new COVID-19 deaths, raising the overall virus-related death toll to 27,262.
Another 941 infections were also reported, giving the county a pandemic total of 1,538,451.
The rolling average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 1.4% as of Tuesday.
According to state figures, there were 650 COVID-19-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals as of Tuesday, up from 629 on Monday. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care was 149, down from 151 a day earlier.
According to the most recent figures, 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%.