Newsom urges people to be calm but vigilant after discovery of nation’s first confirmed case
By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — Shortly after the presence of the omicron variant was confirmed in California on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom advised state residents to remain calm yet vigilant as scientists continue to gain information about the latest virus strain out of southern Africa.
The governor addressed reporters at a vaccine clinic Wednesday in Merced County about an hour after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the nation’s first confirmed case caused by the omicron variant was discovered in California.
The San Francisco resident who tested positive had recently returned to the state after visiting South Africa has “mild symptoms,” the CDC said.
Gov. Newsom reported Wednesday that the individual is between 18-49 and fully vaccinated, though the person was not in the window to receive a booster shot.
The governor acknowledged Wednesday that there remains a lot of uncertainty around the new variant, noting that scientists are still gathering information about omicron. In the meantime, he advised all eligible Californians to get their vaccine and booster shots as soon as possible and continue to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.
“There’s more panic than information about this new variant, and that just means we have to keep our mind open but maintain our vigilance,” Gov. Newsom said Wednesday.
The CDC said Wednesday said no one who was in close contact with the San Francisco resident who tested positive had contracted the virus yet. But California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state expects to see additional cases surface over time.
“It’s not unexpected that we actually do have a case here in California,” Dr. Ghaly said. “We do expect that, over time, we will have additional cases, and that’s why we need to keep our guard up.”
The health secretary said that this breakthrough infection does not mean the vaccine is not working. Rather, he said, it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do.
“We have been talking for months about the fact that vaccinations do one really, really important thing – protect against severe disease, against hospitalization and death,” Dr. Ghaly said. “And the evidence that an individual with omicron identified by sequencing actually has mild symptoms, is improving, is a testimony to the importance of the vaccinations.”
Gov. Newsom has warned residents that “winter is coming” to promote the vaccine and booster shots in recent weeks. He has also reminded residents of last year’s winter surge, which led to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths, the closure of businesses and weeks of lockdown.
Gov. Newsom said Wednesday that the state’s case rate and infections are not as “acute” as last year. He told reporters that as long as the state continues its “nation-leading efforts” in keeping cases low, he does not expect the emergence of omicron to spur another statewide shutdown.
“If we continue to do what we’ve done, which is continue to be in the top 10 in terms of the lowest case rates and among the highest vaccination rates, and the lowest positivity rates, that won’t be an issue,” Gov. Newsom said. “It’s really important to focus, to understand that we have agency in this pandemic. We’re not bystanders in this pandemic. So it’s our decisions that will determine our fate and future, not conditions.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is expected today to reveal his plan on how his administration will combat COVID-19 this winter.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.