On Thursday, River City High School in West Sacramento reported the first known outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in the region, according to Yolo County health officials.
The outbreak involves six people, five of whom are students at the high school. Four of those students shared a class period. While two of the individuals with COVID-19 were fully vaccinated, both did not have a booster shot. The other four people were unvaccinated, Yolo County health officer Dr. Aimee Sisson said.
“Two of the cases are confirmed to be omicron by genotyping done at the UC Davis Genome Center,” Sisson said. “The rest were presumed to be omicron.”
According to Sisson, all six people had mild symptoms, no one required hospitalization and some have already recovered from COVID-19. The first of the students turned symptomatic on Dec. 9, and the latest positive case was yesterday.
Parents were notified of the outbreak on Wednesday night via a letter from the Washington Unified School District, where River City is located.
While Sisson doesn’t think those omicron cases are directly linked to the omicron case identified last week in West Sacramento, she said the outbreak indicates omicron spread in the Yolo County community and that the county is “concerned” due to how easily the variant spreads.
A press release from Yolo County Health and Human Services and Washington Unified states that the number of cases connected to the outbreak is expected to rise as testing continues. An outbreak is defined as three or more linked cases in a location within a 14-day period.
As of Dec. 15, Washington Unified reported nine student positive cases, including the five at River City High School. Between Aug. 5 and Dec. 15 there were 179 positive cases and 1,519 exposures in the school district, based on its COVID-19 dashboard.
The Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency department was notified of an omicron case by the UC Davis Genome Center on Tuesday morning. After analysis, the agency found the outbreak was localized to River City High School. Sisson credited the PCR analysis at the UC Davis Genome Center, which provides preliminary results faster than whole genome sequencing, to helping the county act quickly.
“My hunch is that other communities have omicron outbreaks and omicron outbreaks in schools, they just haven’t identified them as being omicron,” she said.
According to the press release, Healthy Davis Together, Yolo County staff and a state-supported outbreak team are offering on-campus COVID-19 testing Thursday and Friday for students and staff, before the school goes on winter break. The school will also be offering all students and staff take-home antigen tests.
The Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency strongly recommends all students get tested immediately.
“Because of the fact that in a high school, students transition between several classrooms over the course of a day, you can see how six cases who are each in six different classrooms can quickly expose a lot of people,” Sisson said. “That’s why we’re bringing in testing teams and recommending that everybody on the entire campus gets tested. That way, we can get a better sense of the extent of spread.”
According to Sacramento County spokesperson Janna Haynes, Sacramento County has not yet reported its first clinical case of omicron, though the variant has been found in wastewater samples.
In an interview with McClatchy last week, the president’s chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said that preliminary data from South Africa showed that while data strongly supports the idea that omicron has a transmission advantage, hospitalization rates indicate that the variant has less severe effects.
But Fauci said it was important not to take the variant lightly.
“If it really is much more transmissible, just the quantity alone of people getting infected could outbalance the positive nature of it being less severe,” he said. “If you have something that has a small level infection and a high degree of severity, that might be equivalent to something that has a wide degree of infection and a small degree of severity.”
Sisson echoed that, adding that the county’s main concern was that Yolo County hospitals are already filled, and the majority of beds aren’t taken up by COVID-19 cases.
“We worry about omicron from the perspective of potentially overwhelming our healthcare system,” she said. “If we have an increase in COVID cases because of omicron, we won’t have room in our hospitals to fit people.”
The county has not announced a change in protocols so far, but Sisson recommended that people “keep their wits about them” heading into the holiday season and make sure they get vaccinated, get the booster shot, test before and after travel and stay masked.
“No longer is a two-layer fabric mask considered adequate protection — people should at least put a removable filter in between those two fabric layers or do double-masking with a surgical mask on the inside and a fabric mask on the outside, to get a combination of filtration and a good fit,” she said.
Other good alternatives are N95 or KN95 masks.
California is currently under a statewide order, effective Dec. 15 to Jan. 15, which mandates mask-wearing in all indoor settings regardless of vaccination status.
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