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Signs of omicron found in California wastewater, suggesting variant is widespread

Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — Signs of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have been found in California’s wastewater, officials said, as the number of cases associated with the new variant rose to double digits this week, including a confirmed infection in a Long Beach resident.

Clues suggestive of Omicron’s presence in the Central Valley were picked up in wastewater samples collected in Sacramento and Merced counties, state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said this week in a discussion hosted by the California Medical Assn.

“We definitely are seeing Omicron across the state, for sure,” Pan said.

In Sacramento County, Stanford University researchers detected a distinctive mutation that is found in Omicron from wastewater collected Nov. 30, according to a statement provided by county spokesperson Janna Haynes. Results were confirmed Monday, the county said.

“These findings indicate that the Omicron variant is most likely present in Sacramento County,” the statement said.

Pan said the mutation was also found in a wastewater sample collected in Merced County.

 

Gov. Gavin Newsom meanwhile confirmed an 11th case of the Omicron variant Wednesday in an interview with ABC’s “GMA3" morning program. He said he expects more cases.

“While there’s only 11 cases, trust me, it’s exponentially larger. And that means it’s ubiquitous, likely, all across this country, or at least will become increasingly so,” Newsom said.

Still, scientists say it’s unclear whether Omicron will become the nation’s dominant strain, displacing Delta, which now accounts for more than 99% of analyzed coronavirus cases nationwide — a point Newsom underscored.

“Here’s the deeper point: The Delta variant is the issue. And it’s the issue driving increases in 30 states over the last few weeks, driving hospitalizations and ICUs,” Newsom said. “And it’s why we’re still very cautious and promoting and very aggressive on boosters and vaccinations.”

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