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second omicron case in Los Angeles

Unvaccinated Nevada state workers will be charged an insurance premium

Latest studies suggest previous COVID-19 infection may not fend off omicron variant

Status of COVID-19 vaccine mandate is still up in the air

COVID-19 By The Numbers

Friday, December 3

11:48 a.m.: Omicron hasn’t reached Sacramento, but it will, county public officer says

The omicron variant of COVID-19 that’s sweeping through several South African and European countries has made its way to California, with cases popping up in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

While Sacramento has not seen any cases of the new variant, county public health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye says it’s still a variant of concern. She said that it's difficult to predict when the variant may spread to Sacramento, but with people traveling for the holidays, it’s only a matter of time.

“We know it’s going to happen at some point,” Kasirye said. “So we just need to continue to be vigilant and do the things that we know will protect everyone,” like getting vaccinated, getting tested and wearing masks.

As of now, very little is known about omicron. It’s not clear how fast it spreads or how severe symptoms can be.

“And of course that means we also need to look at, for people that are vaccinated, what is the level of protection,” Kasirye said. “Our hope is that our vaccines will hold up, and the people that are vaccinated will continue to be protected.”

Kasirye said that it's difficult to predict when the variant may spread to Sacramento. But when it does, she says her department will be able to detect it much sooner than they have in the past, thanks to tools the county’s lab just received.

“In order to identify the variant, you have to do the genome sequencing,” Kasirye said. “So being able to do it in-house increases our capacity to be able to continue the surveillance.”

Prior to getting access to the sequencing tools, Kasirye says the county was sending specimens to the state’s lab, which delayed identifying new cases of variants. As of now, she says delta is still the dominant variant in Sacramento.

9:27 a.m.: California confirms second omicron case in Los Angeles

California recently reported its second confirmed case of the omicron variant in Los Angeles County.

According to the Associated Press, the county’s public health department said a county resident is self-isolating after apparently contracting the infection during a trip to South Africa last month.

The U.S. recorded its first confirmed omicron case on Wednesday in a San Francisco resident who had recently traveled to South Africa and developed mild symptoms after returning on Nov. 22. The little-understood variant was first identified a week ago in South Africa, and it’s been spreading.

California isn’t the only state with infections — five other states, including New York, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Colorado, have all identified omicron variant cases.

Experts have said that this shows how quickly mutations of the virus can circumnavigate the globe with speed and ease. Just one day after the first known U.S. case was found in California, tests showed that the omicron variant had infected at least five people in New York City, plus a man from Minnesota who attended an anime convention in Manhattan in late November.

Officials reported another case in a Colorado woman who had recently traveled to southern Africa. The variant was also confirmed in an unvaccinated Hawaii resident with no recent travel history.

9:23 a.m.: Unvaccinated Nevada state workers will be charged an insurance premium

Nevada state workers enrolled in public employee healthcare plans will be charged up to $55 per month if they aren’t fully vaccinated, according to the Associated Press.

The Nevada Public Employees Benefits Program Board voted on Thursday to impose a surcharge on unvaccinated workers to offset medical costs of those who haven’t gotten shots. The surcharge will fund the testing that unvaccinated workers are required to undergo.

Laura Rich, the benefits program’s executive officer, said Nevada would be the first in the U.S. to impose premiums on state workers who aren’t vaccinated. Nevada estimates roughly 5,000 state workers aren’t vaccinated and hopes that the policy will convince more people to get their shots.

9:20 a.m.: Latest studies suggest previous COVID-19 infection may not fend off omicron variant

South African scientists are warning that the new omicron variant may be causing more reinfections among COVID-19 survivors than earlier virus mutations, according to the Associated Press.

A research group has been tracking reinfections in South Africa, and they spotted a jump with the arrival of omicron, saying the timing suggests “substantial” evidence that the variant can overcome the immunity protection provided by a prior infection more than the extra-contagious delta variant.

The findings are preliminary and were posted online Thursday before scientific review. The researchers didn’t say what portion of the reinfections were confirmed as omicron cases or examine how much protection against the new variant vaccines offer.

Thursday, December 2

11:33 a.m.: Status of COVID-19 vaccine mandate is still up in the air

The Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the U.S. is on hold because of legal challenges, but employers can still require the shots, according to the Associated Press.

The regulation says businesses with 100 or more employees need to require COVID-19 vaccinations or have workers tested weekly for the virus. It was set to take effect Jan. 4, 2022, but has faced legal challenges from businesses, Republicans and others.

A federal appeals court put the rule on hold. Then all legal challenges were consolidated in another appeals court, which is taking written arguments from parties that want to join the case.

11:26 a.m.: Omicron and delta variants could spell the return of more restrictive safety measures

Governments worldwide are weighing new measures for those who may be tired of restrictions and vaccine mandates, as the delta variant pushes up cases in Europe and other parts of the world.

According to the Associated Press, different countries have been turning to varying measures to get their populations vaccinated and healthy.

For example, residents over 60 who refuse to get vaccinated will be hit with monthly fines of 100 euros ($113) a month in Greece. Potential carriers of omicron in Israel could be tracked by the nation’s domestic security agency.

In South Africa, restrictions include curfews and bans on alcohol sales. However, in the U.S., there is essentially no political willpower from either major party to enact any lockdowns or contact tracing. Even enforcing simple measures like mask-wearing has become a political flashpoint.

Governments are facing a thorny calculus made more difficult by the prospect of backlash, increased social divisions and the fear of being voted out of office.

10:47 a.m.: While we’re looking at omicron, we can’t forget the delta variant, experts stress

While all eyes are on the new and little-understood omicron variant, the delta form of the coronavirus isn’t finished wreaking havoc in the U. S., sending record numbers of patients to the hospital in some states, especially in the Midwest and New England.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. recorded its first known omicron infection on Wednesday in a fully vaccinated person who had returned to California from South Africa, where the variant was identified just over a week ago.

For now, the extra-contagious delta variant accounts for practically all cases in the U.S. and continues to inflict misery at a time when many hospitals are struggling with shortages of nurses and a backlog of patients.

The fear now is that the latest variant will foist more patients and perhaps sicker ones into more hospital beds.

Wednesday, December 1

11:43 a.m.: First omicron variant case in nation detected in San Francisco

The first case of the COVID-19 omicron variant in the U.S. was found in San Francisco late last month, according to state and local health officials.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29. The person was vaccinated but had not received a booster shot, according to the Associated Press.

The news comes as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new strain of the virus. The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from Southern Africa, despite the Netherlands being the first country to identify an infection.

Where the variant originated is still unclear, but clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other nations.

11:42 a.m.: Mysteries of the omicron variant could take weeks to untangle

Scientists say it could be weeks before they better understand how dangerous the omicron variant is.

According to the Associated Press, it’s still unknown whether the newest coronavirus “variant of concern” spreads faster than delta or makes people sicker.

According to the Associated Press, it also isn’t clear how much protection is offered either by our vaccines or a person’s immunity after recovering from another COVID-19 variant.

There are lots of guesses but little hard evidence as scientists race to find answers amid scrutiny from an anxious public. In the meantime, scientists urge people to get vaccinated and take other public health measures such as masking indoors.

11:35 a.m.: Supply chain woes hit toy-giving charities during the holiday season

As supply chain bottlenecks create shortages of many items, some charities are struggling to secure holiday gift wishes from kids in need, according to the Associated Press.

They’re reporting they can’t find enough items in stock or are facing shipping delays both in receiving and distributing the gifts.

The founder of One Simple Wish said many gift requests for gaming consoles and electronic items submitted to the charity have been out of stock. Another charity can’t find enough doll styling heads, racially diverse Barbies and other things to give to kids in need.

One expert believes charities are also bound to see fewer toy donations directly from manufacturers this holiday season.

Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here.

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