Dr. Henning Ansorg says the two residents came in contact with infected San Francisco resident; 10 cases confirmed across the U.S.
Two Santa Barbara individuals reportedly came into contact with the San Francisco resident who tested positive in the nation’s first confirmed case of the omicron variant.
The individuals were on a flight with the San Francisco resident, Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer, told the News-Press in a story that originally appeared late Thursday morning at newspress.com ahead of other media outlets.
“They were in contact with the person who tested positive,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press.
He said the Santa Barbara residents have been asked to self-quarantine at home. “They will be tested in three to five days.”
Dr. Ansorg said he didn’t know which flight the Santa Barbara residents were on or whether they were on a connecting flight. The infected San Francisco resident recently returned from South Africa, one of the eight southern African countries where the omicron COVID-19 variant was originally identified. It has since been identified in other countries.
And on Thursday, more confirmed omicron cases were reported in California (Los Angeles County, one person), Minnesota (one), New York state (five), Colorado (one) and Hawaii (one). With the San Francisco resident, that means a total of 10 cases when the News-Press went to press Thursday evening.
The Los Angeles County Public Health Department reported a resident of that county tested positive after returning from South Africa. The department also said the individual came into contact with a few people, all of whom tested negative.
In another development Thursday, Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press that Santa Barbara County’s indoor mask mandate, scheduled to expire today, will be extended for another 30 days because the county remains around 10 cases per 100,000 people.
“We’re still in substantial community transmission,” he said.
“The last couple days, the numbers have looked better, but I think they are not quite realistic because of the lag of results after the long holiday weekend,” Dr. Ansorg said.
The county Public Health Department plans to end the indoor mask mandate when the number falls to six cases per 100,000 and remains there for two weeks.
Dr. Ansorg added that the indoor mask mandate is a good idea in light of the omicron variant, which didn’t surprise the public health officer with its appearance in the U.S.
“With people traveling all over and the fact this particular variant is on every continent, it was only a question of time that we picked it up,” he said.
When asked if the variant could spread throughout the country in, say, six weeks, Dr. Ansorg said it probably would happen faster than that. “This one had a really quick spread apparently in South Africa.
“In South Africa, 75% of all positive cases were this variant. It outperformed the delta variant there,” he said. “We don’t know if there’s a certain component to this outbreak there, which is mainly with college students, that may have played a role. Time will show if this has the potential to surpass or overtake the delta variant. It would mean it’s more transmissible than delta.”
Dr. Ansorg said he expects it’ll be another two weeks before there are more definitive answers about the COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness against the omicron variant, how the virus is spread and whether it has a shorter incubation period.
“All these things will take time to figure out,” he said.
But Dr. Ansorg said the infected but vaccinated San Francisco resident’s mild symptoms could be good news about the vaccines’ effectiveness in limiting the severity of the symptoms. “We are hoping that will show to be true. Also in South Africa, anecdotally, people had not had horribly severe symptoms.”
He noted while the college students there became ill, they didn’t have to be hospitalized.
Dr. Ansorg added that airline passengers arriving from the eight countries in southern Africa are being tested at Los Angeles International Airport. Dr. Ansorg said the CDC or the state Public Health Department will contact the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department if anyone at LAX tests positive.
He noted that past strategies remain viable in light of the omicron variant. The medical community and government officials have voiced support for vaccinations for ages 5 and older, and they have called on vaccinated people to get booster shots six months after their Moderna or Pfizer shots or two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
In Santa Barbara County, 66.3% of the eligible 5-and-older population is fully vaccinated, according to the latest numbers from the Public Health Department, and Dr. Ansorg and other physicians would like to see a much higher percentage.
Dr. Ansorg emphasized the need for other precautions as well.
“Wear masks in indoor settings, and socially distance,” he said. “All these public health measures prevent the spread of the disease.”