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LA County has no plan for an Omicron lockdown

No significant new coronavirus-related restrictions are expected in Los Angeles County following the emergence of the Omicron variant, a senior health official said on Tuesday.

“Right now we really have, I think, reasonable precautions in place,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the county watchdog.

LA County’s existing COVID-19 rules are already among the strictest in the state. They include a general mandate for residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces, whether or not they have been vaccinated.

The county is also demanding that customers and employees of indoor bars, wineries, breweries, distilleries, nightclubs and lounges prove they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Similar but more extensive rules in the city of Los Angeles cover a host of additional businesses, including indoor restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters.

But despite the concerns that accompany the new variant and the approach of winter, officials in Los Angeles and across California are far from publicly discussing the kind of strict restrictions that were in place around this time last year. , when a series of regional stays at home ordinances were closed or severely restricted many aspects of the state’s economy and the lives of residents.

This attitude is also reflected at the federal level.

“We are going to tackle COVID this winter – not with closures or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more,” President Biden said on Monday.

Officials are quick to note that the state of the pandemic is very different this year, given the abundant supply and availability of vaccines, which are expected to provide at least some degree of protection against Omicron, particularly against serious illness and disease. dead.

The likely clearance of pills that can reduce the risk of serious illness is also on the horizon.

The basic strategy remains to get more unvaccinated people vaccinated – including young children – and to encourage eligible vaccinated adults to receive boosters.

“The boosters are absolutely essential, especially for people who got vaccinated some time ago,” Ferrer said.

Although residents may feel exhausted from everything they have been asked to do over the past 20 months, it is important to remain vigilant, Ferrer said.

“It has been an extraordinarily long and difficult time, and people are right to feel tired,” she said. “I think the best way to put all of this in perspective is that we currently have much more powerful tools at our disposal than last year. “

It is not known whether Omicron – which was first detected on November 11 in Botswana and three days later in South Africa – can spread as easily as the still dominant Delta variant. It is also unclear whether the newly discovered strain, which has yet to be found in the United States, could cause more serious disease or potentially escape some of the protective power offered by existing vaccines.

Omicron is gaining attention because of its many mutations – around 50, many more than in previous variants, Dr Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, said in a briefing.

With its ‘unusual constellation of mutations’, Omicron may be more infectious than other variants. It has already become the dominant variant in South Africa, Ferrer said.

“Obviously, if the vaccines are not as effective, these masks are very important and we already have a masking requirement,” she said. “I think if we didn’t have that requirement, we would probably suggest it, because it’s the next line of defense.”

Health officials have long stressed the importance of taking a layered approach to tackling the coronavirus. While wearing masks in public, avoiding crowded places indoors and, in particular, getting vaccinated all offer some degree of protection, these tools work best when used together.

“We need people to be sane and careful, and we’re going to pay a lot of attention to the science,” Ferrer said. “Obviously, if there is any information emerging that requires us to rethink the safety messages, we will come back to both the board and the public. “

One area the county is examining is the protocols surrounding nursing homes, which have received special attention given their residents’ vulnerability to COVID-19.

The vaccination rates in these establishments are quite high.

“But if there is a decrease in vaccine protection in a very vulnerable population that is already sick, we could see devastating effects,” Ferrer said.

As a result, county officials are working on contingency plans that would change guidelines for testing and visitors.

“We obviously want to allow visitors during the holidays, but we have to do it in a way that encourages a lot of safety,” Ferrer said.

So far, LA County has seen no clear signs of a fifth wave of COVID-19. However, experts suspect that one will come – if not from Omicron, then from the existing Delta variant.

There were 562 people with COVID-19 in LA County hospitals on Monday, up from 659 a month ago. The county has six COVID-19 hospital patients per 100,000 population; some experts believe it is a cause for concern when the rate is five or more.

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