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New variant of COVID-19 on the move in Stanislaus, Merced counties

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 that has been responsible for a surge of cases in the state and across the nation has been found in Stanislaus and Merced counties and is responsible for a recent increase in cases.

The Stanislaus County Health Services Agency announced on Dec. 29 that an adult woman had been diagnosed with the variant. The woman had a previous COVID-19 infection and had been fully vaccinated more than six months prior.

Earlier in December, researchers discovered traces of the variant in a wastewater sample in Merced County.

"While there’s still a lot to learn about Omicron, the recent increase in cases in a short amount of time does show how quickly this variant spreads," the SCHSA said in a news release. "The growth advantage and very rapid doubling time of this variant may jeopardize hospital capacity in a short time frame."

The most significant increase in cases has been seen within people between the ages of 18 to 34 years and has been on the rise since Christmas Eve, according to the SCHSA.

Omicron has been identified as a variant of concern by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Getting vaccinated and getting boosted as soon as eligible provides the best protection against Omicron and other variants, according to the CDC. This is especially important for children and adults who have chronic conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease.

Community members should get their booster shots at least six months after completing the full series of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and at least two months after receiving a Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Stanislaus County currently has instated a mask mandate for all indoor locations, regardless of vaccine status. The order is currently through Jan. 15.

Stanislaus County is following the revised guidelines from the CDC for those testing positive for COVID-19. People should stay home and isolate for at least five days. If you have no symptoms or your symptoms have resolved, you may leave your home after five days if you are able to mask at all times to complete the 10-day isolation. If you still have symptoms, stay home until your symptoms resolve. Following isolation, continue to wear a mask around others to complete the ten-day isolation time.

For people who have been exposed to someone positive with COVID-19 and have been fully vaccinated and gotten their booster, they should wear a mask for 10 days when around other people and get tested on the fifth day, according to SCHSA.

In an individual is unvaccinated or not received a booster and is exposed to someone with COVID-19, they should stay home for five days and get tested on the fifth day. Wear a mask around others for five additional days after exposure.

Stanislaus County has recorded 84,543 cases as of Monday, with 1,670 presumed active. Within the last five business days, the county has recorded 279 cases, 25 probable cases and five deaths. All total, Stanislaus County has recorded 1,473 deaths. There are 94 people currently hospitalized, with 17 in the ICU. Of those currently hospitalized, 77 percent are not fully vaccinated, according to the SCHSA. Ninety-two percent of the deaths are of those who were not fully vaccinated. The percentage of Stanislaus County residents that are fully vaccinated is at 55 percent and 10 percent are partially vaccinated.

Turlock currently has 131 active cases of COVID-19, 10,733 total cases and 206 deaths.

As of Monday, Merced County has recorded 47,982 positive cases and has a positivity rate of 8.3 percent. There are 17 people currently hospitalized in Merced County and 1,508 current cases. The county has reported 701 deaths. The percentage of Merced County residents that are fully vaccinated stands at 44.46 percent.

The increase in cases has prompted the health departments to issue a reminder about emergency room visits. People should avoid visiting the emergency room unless they need emergency medical care. Please don’t visit the emergency room solely to get a COVID-19 test or for minor complaints that could be resolved through their primary care physician. Emergency room visits should be reserved for those patients who are feeling severely ill; for example, those who are short of breath – or who have serious concerns about their health and who require immediate emergency care.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, people should:

•Stay home and follow isolation and quarantine instructions if you are sick;

•Avoid crowded indoor spaces;

•Limit the number of gatherings and if possible, do a rapid test the day of the gathering;

•Wear a well-fitting mask that is of high quality;

•Take extra precautions such as washing hands with soap and water and staying 6 feet apart from others to protect those around you;

•Get tested to help reduce the spread, especially if you traveled for the holidays, have had a possible exposure, have symptoms, or are gathering with people not in your household.