Public Health Department reports four cases
Santa Barbara County’s first cases of the omicron variant were reported Wednesday.
Four cases were confirmed, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department announced in a news release late in the afternoon.
The detection of the variant was announced at a time when COVID-19 cases are surging in the county. The Public Health Department reported 534 new cases Wednesday, almost twice that of the 286 new cases reported on Tuesday. (The complete breakdown of Wednesday’s numbers is on Page A2.)
According to the health department, all four individuals with the omicron variant were under 30. One person had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and the other three don’t have vaccine records in CAIR, the state immunization database.
Three of the cases were in South County, according to the public health department, which reported that additional contact investigation and tracing efforts are under way. Per the usual procedures, close contacts have been asked to quarantine, the health department said.
“The detection of these four omicron cases validates our sense of urgency about vaccination and boosters in our local community,” said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the county public health director. “Vaccination and boosters for every eligible community member continues to be the No. 1 tool we have to stop the spread of this virus and prevent serious illness in those who do get COVID-19.
“Given the prevalence of omicron cases throughout the nation and California, we can expect that the variant is circulating in Santa Barbara County,” she said in the news release. “However, these four cases are the first confirmed from sampling.”
The Public Health Department said COVID-19 vaccines appear to be effective against the omicron variant, especially against serious illness and death. To find a vaccination site, go to publichealthsbc.org/vaccine.
The department is encouraging people to get tested if they travel to U.S. locations with high transmission rates or if they’ve traveled internationally. Testing is also advised for those who have been in a crowded gathering with unvaccinated people.
This week, the Public Health Department is distributing at-home tests for people unable to get an immediate appointment. “These at-home tests are the next best option, especially if you experience symptoms. Due to increased demand for at-home antigen tests, supply may be limited at local pharmacies, grocery stores and other locations.”
The department is giving away at-home test kits from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. today at Franklin Health Care Center, 1136 E. Montecito St., Santa Barbara; the Carpinteria Health Care Center, 931 Walnut Ave., Carpinteria; the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, 315 Camino Del Remedio, Santa Barbara, and the Lompoc Health Care Center, 301 North R St.
The kits will be unavailable at the Franklin and Carpinteria locations on Friday, but will be available at the Lompoc and Public Health Department locations.
Tests may also be available at local pharmacies, but they won’t be free there.
A few hours before the department’s announcement late Wednesday afternoon of the omicron variant, UCSB announced no spectators would be allowed at games, effective immediately through Jan. 17. The university said the decision was made because of uncertainties over the omicron variant.
And before the Public Health Department’s news release, the News-Press talked to a Cottage Health physician who thought the variant was probably in the county.
“We fully believe that omicron is in our community and is the dominant variant circulating,” Dr. David Fisk, an infectious disease specialist with Cottage Health and Sansum Clinic, told the News-Press.
Dr. Fisk attributed the county’s increase in cases to the low rates of mask usage, increased social interactions, people not being fully vaccinated and increased activity indoors due to the colder weather.
The News-Press couldn’t reach Public Health Department officials Wednesday for further comment.
Earlier this week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention updated COVID-19 guidelines.
The CDC announced the changes Monday and said they were driven by a recent national surge of COVID cases, attributed to the omicron variant.
The CDC reduced the isolation period from 10 days to five days for those who test positive. The CDC also reduced the time that close contacts need to quarantine.
The CDC still recommends wearing a mask for five days after the isolation period. The agency recommends that if you still have symptoms after five days, to continue isolation until you feel better, then start wearing a mask for five days.
The CDC also says that only those who receive booster shots can skip quarantine if they wear a mask in all settings for at least 10 days.
The updated CDC guidelines are not mandates but recommendations to employers and state and local officials.