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South Coast public health expert says question not if, but when COVID-19 variant Omicron arrives in region

A South Coast public health offical says it's inevitable that the COVID-19 variant Omitron will surface on the Central and South Coasts.
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A South Coast public health official says it's inevitable that the COVID-19 variant Omicron will surface on the Central and South Coasts.

Degree of threat posed by variant still unknown.

It sounds more like name of one of the robots in the “Transformers” movies than the latest COVID-19 variant. But, public health officials around the world, and here on the Central and South Coast are trying to determine the degree of threat posed by Omicron.

A health expert on the South Coast says it will turn up in our area, and the only real question is when.

Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin says there are lots of things we don't know about it, including how much of a threat it may pose, and the effectiveness of current vaccines against Omicron.

"We don't know that it's more transmissible than Delta," said Dr. Levin. "We'd would like to think, we're optimistic, that it might not cause as serious of a COVID infection as previous variants have."

In response to the latest variant, the World Health Organization issued a statement recommending that people over 60, as well as those with underlying conditions not travel to try to avoid exposure.

But, the Ventura County Public Health official thinks the blanket over-60-don’t travel-at-this time recommendation may be going a little too far right now.

"It is at once ultra cautious, and responsible, but also quite premature," said Dr. Levin. But he said if you are someone who is immunocompromised you should consider not traveling now.

New case numbers have been dropping in the region during the last few weeks. But, we’re just reaching the time where a Thanksgiving related bump would start to appear.

Dr. Levin admits that he, and other public health officials are worried about a potential spike over the holiday period, with parties, family gatherings, and increased travel.

The health official says we are still much better off than a year ago, when vaccine wasn’t available. But, he says even with Ventura County in the 70% vaccination rate range for those who are eligible, he says there's room for improvement.

The overall numbers for the region are sobering. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 176,000 people in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo Counties have tested positive for the virus. And, there have been more than 2,100 COVID-related deaths in the three counties.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.