Santa Clara County reports first COVID omicron infection
Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody speaks about the first omicron COVID-19 infection discovered in the county. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus has been found in Santa Clara County, prompting health officials to urge residents to get their booster shots.

According to the county, the infected individual showed symptoms on Nov. 30 and got tested Dec. 1. The person, who traveled to Florida, is fully vaccinated, but did not receive a booster.

In response, county health officials are pushing for all eligible residents to get their booster shots.

“What we’re finding now is that having just that primary series, the two doses, is not enough,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s COVID-19 vaccine officer. “We need to move to make sure that everyone that is eligible gets boosted.”

According to Fenstersheib, about 39% of eligible county residents have gotten their booster.

“Our message, moving forward, especially with the holidays coming, is get vaccinated. Get boosted,” he said. “If you have a child between 5 and 11 who hasn’t been vaccinated, get them vaccinated.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of the omicron variant in the United States on Dec. 1, first detected by officials at UC San Francisco. Medical experts believed a spread to the rest of the Bay Area was inevitable.

Santa Clara County, however, could be in a good spot to fight the variant. According to data from the county, 79.4% of all residents are fully vaccinated.

“We know immunity wanes with the primary series,” said Dr. Sara Cody, county public health officer. “Every day we learn about how important (the booster) is. I would say, with full conviction, that every single person who is eligible for boosters should get a booster. It lessens the chance you will get infected and (be) infectious. It doesn’t eliminate it, but it reduces it. And it drastically reduces the risk of hospitalization.”

The omicron variant was first discovered among college students in South Africa in late November. Scientists believe omicron to be the most infectious COVID variant yet, but it will take weeks before they fully understand it. The omicron variant has approximately 50 mutations across its genome, while other variants, including the delta variant that has driven recent surges, have fewer than 20.

County officials tested for traces of omicron on Dec. 7 in a sewershed that serves approximately 200,000 people in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Stanford and a small portion of San Mateo County. They received results Thursday showing traces of omicron had been found in the sewershed. The resident infected with the omicron variant lives in the area of that sewershed. They are self-isolating and close contacts of the resident have been notified.

County officials are also warning about holiday gatherings in an effort to avoid a surge in infections over the next few weeks. They’re urging people to wear masks indoors and in crowds, gather outdoors when possible and keep gatherings small.

Find a COVID-19 vaccination site and testing clinic.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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