Health officials brace for Omicron variant

Nevada County Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Kellermann said it will take weeks before key questions are answered regarding the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.

The Associated Press reported California recorded the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the United States on Wednesday.

Kellermann said in a Q&A Wednesday that a variant of the virus warrants concern given any one of three factors — being more transmissible, more virulent, or less responsive to existing treatments.

Discussing the variant, Nevada County Director of Health and Human Services Ryan Gruver emphasized that there are “a lot of unknowns at this point” surrounding the variant, including whether it will be transmissible enough to stick around and whether existing vaccines and treatments will be effective against it.

“Those things will require more data and more science,” he said. “My understanding … is that it should be some weeks before we have science on that, which is actually remarkably fast, so it shouldn’t take too long before we have those answers.”

The state Department of Public Health tracks variants of concern, providing an update each month with the percentage of specimens sequenced that are among a list of monitored variants. As of November, according to the state list, over 90% of sequenced specimens were the Delta variant during each of the last five months, with the proportion rising to 99.7% in November.

Regardless of a new variant, said Kellermann, Nevada County still has “a lot of viral transmission.” As of Wednesday, according to the state dashboard tracking COVID-19, the county had a seven-day average of 15.9 daily cases per 100,000 residents.

The statewide average as of Wednesday was 9.3 cases per 100,000 residents.

Precautions include wearing a mask in public — especially indoors, but also outdoors if in a crowded setting — as well as staying home when sick, and both staying home and notifying contacts if testing positive for COVID-19, said Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Glennah Trochet.

Kellermann encouraged vaccination for COVID-19, calling it “our primary defense” and adding that those who are eligible for a booster dose should get one.

Explaining the difference between cases in people who are vaccinated and those who are not, Kellermann said, “The viral loads initially can be very similar, particularly in the nose and mouth (and) the oropharynx, but they drop off quite appreciably in the vaccinated versus the unimmunized.”

He explained that this means someone who is vaccinated could contract the virus and experience initial symptoms shortly afterward, but that antibodies stimulated by immunization should then kick in to prevent illness from progressing further. This, he said, is why the two groups see significantly different rates of COVID-19 hospitalization.

Trochet agreed, adding that being vaccinated for COVID-19 also makes the likelihood that the individual gets infected in the first place “a lot less” than if they had not been vaccinated.

She said that she is commonly asked why someone should get vaccinated if people who get vaccinated might still get sick.

“And it’s because some vaccinated people still get sick, but most vaccinated people do not, as opposed to most unvaccinated people that encounter the virus, they will get sick,” said Trochet. “And the vaccine protects against hospitalization and death from the virus to a much greater degree than if you’re not vaccinated.”

According to the state COVID-19 dashboard, from Nov. 14 to 20, unvaccinated people statewide were 7.2 times more likely to get COVID-19, and 12.5 times more likely to be hospitalized with it, than people who were vaccinated.


Nevada County reported 132 new COVID-19 cases over the last week, bringing the total number of cases to 9,693.

According to the COVID-19 dashboard, 9,383 people have been released from isolation and 197 people had active cases. Since the Delta variant surge began in August, 38 people have died — four last week — bringing the total number of deaths in Nevada County since the pandemic began to 113.

Nevada County public health officials noted that the Delta variant resulted in a number of outbreaks out of local skilled nursing facilities since August. Still, public health officials maintain that those who received the vaccine between January and March were less affected by the the Delta variant of COVID-19 than they would have been without it.

Nevada County administered approximately 3,103 vaccines over the last seven days, bringing the total number of doses delivered to 138,290.

Over the course of last week, 403 people in the county became completely vaccinated, bringing that number up to 58,317.


As of Thursday morning, Placer County reported 410 new cases, a 1% increase in cases from the prior week.

There were six recorded deaths caused by COVID-19 in Placer County last week, bringing the death toll to 465.

Placer County has distributed 565,574 vaccines since their introduction. The number of fully vaccinated Placer County residents is now 242,632 people.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun and The Union, a sister publication of the Sun. She can be reached at

The Union Staff Writer Victoria Penate contributed to this report



Number of COVID-19 cases: 9,693

Number in western county: 7,599

Number in eastern county: 2,094

Number of active cases: 197

Number hospitalized: 11

Number of recoveries: 9,383

Number of deaths: 113 (four in the last week)


Number of COVID-19 cases: 38,398

Number of recoveries: 37,127

Number of deaths: 465 (six in the last week)

Number tested negative: 654,877

As case investigations are conducted and more information is gathered, case counts may change or even decrease due to residents location being confirmed in nearby counties. The number of laboratory tests reported to the Public Health Department are approximate

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