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Omicron fuels COVID-19 surge on Central, South Coasts

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Public Health officials on the Central and South Coasts say the COVID-19 surge in the region is being fueled by the Omicron variant.

Public Health officials in region say it's by far the dominant COVID-19 variant in region, at 95% in one county.

It might be the understatement of the week.

"We expected a surge, but not at this intensity, and that has to do with the new variant," said Ventura County Public Health Director Dr. Rigoberto Vargas.

The numbers are hard to compare, because they are reported a bit differently Ventura County had more than 5000 new cases from Friday through Monday. Santa Barbara County had more than 3100 for the same period. And, San Luis Obispo County reported 1121 Friday through Tuesday.

"In the last two weeks, from December 23rd to January 6th, the case rate has increased drastically, at about 405%," said Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Dr. Van Do-Reynoso.

Any way you shake it, the region’s numbers are huge. Ventura County Public Health officials say the guidance they’ve received from the state is that the surge may peak between January 15 and 22.

And, officials say there’s no question Omicron is leading the surge in the region.

"Omicron is three to five times more transmissible than Delta," said Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin. He says Omicron is responsible for about 95% of the current cases in the county right now. But, he notes while it spreads more easily, it’s also less dangerous for the vaccinated than the Delta variant.

So far, the region’s hospitals are holding their own. The numbers of people hospitalized as a result of COVID are lower than a year ago. But, staff are worn out, and in some cases stretched thin because of people leaving. Also, Omicron is also infecting medical staff members.

"We don't have hospital beds to put patients in. Patients that are needing to be admitted to our hospitals have to stay in the emergency room until there is a hospital bed available," said Steve Carroll, the Administrator of Ventura County Emergency Medical Services.

He says the county’s eight hospitals, and ambulances are operating under what’s known as diversion. It means unless you have a medical issue which requires a specific hospital’s care, you will be taken to the closest available ER.

Even with the surge, there have been no major additions to health orders for the region. But, Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin says they are recommending you switch from cloth, to medical-style masks, because they are more effective against Omicron.

Public health official are again reminding people that if you have mild COVID symptoms, don’t go to hospital ERs. They will turn you away. You should make arrangements to get tested.

Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties are beefing up testing capacity. Ventura County is working with other agencies to open ten new sites in the next week.

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.