San Rafael, CA – Less than one week after the first case of the Omicron variant was detected in Marin County, public health officials are witnessing the beginning of the anticipated surge of cases tied to the new variant. This spike in cases is prompting Marin County Public Health to encourage action by both the public and local clinicians.
On Tuesday, December 21, 112 new cases were reported in Marin County, the highest daily case count since January 13, 2021. The highest daily count during the summer surge driven by the Delta variant was 86.
In northern Europe and the eastern United States, the Omicron variant overtook the Delta variant as the dominant strain over a short period of one to two weeks. That shift is now occurring in Marin.
“We’re deep into the transition to Omicron,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer. “Given the detection in Marin wastewater last week, increased number of confirmed cases regionally, yesterday’s spike in cases, and the emerging national data, we should assume new cases are most likely due to Omicron.”
The Omicron variant is significantly more contagious than previous strains. This makes infection more likely to happen through encounters in indoor public settings, including social gatherings and even retail or restaurant settings.
Preliminary data suggests that in highly vaccinated communities like Marin, the early stages of the Omicron surge have not resulted in major spikes of serious illnesses.
“This holiday season, the Omicron variant is an invisible, uninvited guest that may crash your holiday gathering,” said Dr. Lisa Santora, the County's Deputy Public Health Officer. “A holiday gift to yourself and your loved ones is to not let your guard down when engaging in activities outside of your home.”
Here are four actions recommended by Marin County Public Health to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in light of the omicron variant spreading:
- Get boosted: Two shots are not enough to effectively protect against Omicron infection.
- Wear a face covering: Masks are required for indoor public places such as grocery stores and movie theaters regardless of vaccination status. Mask are also strongly recommended for private gatherings. N95 or KN95 masks provide a greater degree of protection than a paper or cloth mask.
- Get tested: Immediately get tested for COVID-19 if symptoms arise, regardless of vaccination status. Symptoms can feel like a common cold, seasonal allergies, or flu. Also, get tested if you were recently exposed to someone who has symptoms, and before and after you travel or attend a gathering.
- Stay home if sick: One of the best ways to prevent illness from spreading is to limit contact with others.
“The unfortunate reality is we’re seeing more cases in fully vaccinated people," Willis said. "You really need to booster to be well-protected. Fortunately, infections among vaccinated people are generally mild. We recommend everyone approach each gathering by asking ‘How important is this to me?’ and making sure the gathering is as safe as possible.”
Public health officials are urging residents to celebrate the holidays safely. Here are tips to increase safety at your next social gathering:
- Gatherings limited to those who are fully vaccinated and boosted are safest.
- Limit capacity of gatherings: keep size small
- Meet outdoors or in well-ventilated indoor spaces
- Keep a list of attendees in case a positive COVID-19 test emerges
- Shorten the duration of indoor activities
- Require attendees to test on the day of the planned gathering. Consider offering rapid antigen tests on site, to check status before entering the gathering.
In addition, people who at risk of more serious illness and have not received a booster vaccine should consider skipping holiday gatherings or participating remotely.
Marin County Public Health is monitoring the situation closely and has no immediate plans to implement new restrictions due to the availability of tools like vaccinations and boosters, which were unavailable during the previous stay-home order of December 2020.
More local information about COVID-19 can be found on Public Health’s coronavirus webpage.