The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus is in California and one Central Coast health expert says she is nervous ahead of the holidays in case loved ones spread it - especially to unvaccinated and vulnerable people.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the Director of the Santa Barbara Public Health Department, told KSBY, “It does not change my level of concern in this manner. The focus for us is really to get everyone vaccinated. Incrementally, we are seeing that individuals in our community and in our country incrementally, we're inching upwards in vaccine coverage, but we're not there yet.”
Doctors say the best ways to protect yourself and your family are getting vaccinated, boosted, and wearing masks indoors, and in public spaces.
“What we do know from other countries is that it presents itself with mild symptoms and that we are suspecting that it could be even more transmissible than the Delta, meaning that it is more contagious than the Delta. And that is our suspicion right now and that we don't know the severity of illness those individuals will endure. So there, you know, I want to say that give us probably two more weeks, and we will know a lot more about the impact,” said Dr. Do-Reynoso.
The Delta variant is the dominant strain right now in Santa Barbara County. In San Luis Obispo County, cases of the Delta variant make up almost 100 % of all COVID-19 diagnoses.
“I'm worried that Omicron could take over and beat the dominant strain in our community. And I'm worried that an increase in cases may lead to really stressing our hospital system and healthcare system,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said she doesn’t see a new wave of restrictions happening because we have more tools in place this time around than at the beginning of the pandemic.
People who are hesitant about the vaccine may bring up questions about natural immunity from COVID-19. Some question whether they need the vaccine if they have had the virus or have confidence in their own immune systems.
“Natural immunity refers to people who were exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and were infected and have since then recovered. So their immune system has the antibodies for two to SARS-CoV-2 to the virus that they were infected with. And so when we say natural immunity that we don't know the strength of the protection, nor do we know the longevity,” explained Dr. Do-Reynoso.
If someone contracted COVID-19 months ago, scientists are not certain if that immunity will protect them from the latest surge or variant.
“So it's a great state natural immunity. It's better than nothing. However, we know you an individual infected early on in the first wave and they were infected with SARS-CoV-2 in its natural original form. We now have Delta as the dominant circulating virus,” clarified Dr. Do-Reynoso.
Those who previously had COVID-19 during the first wave, may not have much protection against the newer variants.
Scientists report that Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines do show a higher level of protection. Experts have seen individuals catch COVID-19 several times, according to Santa Barbara County Health.