Omicron thrives in lowly vaccinated Tulare County population

The Tulare County Public Health Department states that the COVID-19 omicron variant is rapidly spreading through Tulare County

VISALIA – Not only is the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Tulare County, but it is thriving. This has pushed county public health officials to continue to emphasize precautions in January.

According to the Tulare County Public Health Department, last week’s surveillance activities have identified rapid spread of omicron throughout Tulare County in just the last few days. This rapid spread is consistent with what has been seen in other parts of California and the nation.

“As we suspected, the omicron variant is present and circulating in Tulare County. This new variant is very contagious and infectious, which is why it is extremely important we continue all safety measures to prevent becoming infected with COVID-19,” stated Dr. Karen Haught, Tulare County public health officer. “It is especially important for everyone to get vaccinated, get a booster vaccine, and wear a well-fitting face covering or mask while in any public, indoor setting.”

Of course, any change in the COVID-19 situation in the county is an opportunity for pushing the need for vaccinations and boosters. A public health press release from the county states that data show at vaccines remain one of the most powerful protections against COVID-19 transmission.

“We know many will be traveling and gathering with others for the holidays. The vaccines are effective against the delta variant and earlier strains of the virus, which allows us to remain hopeful that the approved vaccines will also provide some protection against omicron,” the release stated.

On 48.4% of the total population in the county is vaccinated from COVID-19 which helps prevent hospitalizations from the virus. However, 48.4% of the total population makes up 74.8% of fully vaccinated people in the eligible population. But public health officials have told The Sun-Gazette that the vaccination rate needs to be among 80% to effectively quell the virus.

Some fortunate news has been the county’s hospitalization rate as of late. The delta variant ravaged county hospitals between August and midway through November. Hospitalizations held steady for months between 178 and 148 for months until they began trending down throughout November and through December.

Unfortunately, hospitalizations are moving upward, but just slightly. Hospitalizations reached their lowest level since the delta surge began at 43 on Dec. 29. The county hadn’t even been close 43 COVID hospitalizations since Aug. 2, 2021 when they were at 46. But since Dec. 29 the county is at 59 hospitalizations and been going upward for almost a week.

Health officials in the county and the state have been concerned against the latent effects of the omicron variant, most notably hospitalizations. Tulare County Health and Human Services Public Health director Karen Elliott said to The Sun-Gazette last month that during the delta surge months ago, Tulare County lagged behind most of the state in seeing the surge in hospitalizations, but show up they certainly did.

“I think that we all should be concerned, in terms of what we’ve been hearing about the omicron variant, that it’s highly contagious,” Elliott said.

Another surge could be just another straw on the camels back that is the local health care industry. Through two years of pandemic the health care workforce has been decimated, highlighted in the Central Valley by Kaweah Health recently having over 700 job openings with only 80 applicants, a health care system normally employing 5,100 people.

“We’ve seen people leave the profession, and it leaves less and less people to care—they’re exhausted,” Elliott said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mask mandate in California is set to expire on Jan. 15, and the county is still encouraging residents to wear masks indoors.

“With continued substantial transmission and a highly infectious new variant, all Tulare County residents should continue adhering to the masking requirements and wear a well-fitting mask that securely covers the nose and mouth when indoors in public places, regardless of vaccination status. Individuals should also wear a mask when at any crowded indoor or outdoor events, public or private,” a county press releases stated last week.

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