A college student who traveled to the East Coast for the Thanksgiving holiday has been confirmed as Los Angeles County’s second known case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, prompting a renewed call for people who traveled internationally or to areas with high virus transmission rates to get tested.
The latest Omicron variant patient is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, had mild symptoms and is in isolation, according to the county Department of Public Health. The agency indicated that based on the person’s travel history, “it is likely that the infection was acquired outside of Los Angeles County.” The person’s close contacts have been identified, and all are being tested and placed in quarantine.
USC officials issued a statement confirming the patient is a student at the university.
“The case was detected as part of USC’s routine surveillance testing program; all campus close contacts have been identified, were notified, and are in quarantine,” according to the university. “The individual did not attend classes or organized activities on campus during their infectious period.”
The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, and it has now spread to dozens of other countries, and multiple U.S. states. The first U.S. case was confirmed Dec. 1 in San Francisco, and Los Angeles County confirmed its first case on Dec. 3.
That patient is a Los Angeles County resident who returned to the area Nov. 22 after traveling to South Africa via London. The infection was also deemed to be “most likely travel related.” The unidentified patient is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and has symptoms that are improving, health officials said. The person’s close contacts have all tested negative for the virus.
It is still unclear if the Omicron variant is more highly transmissible than other forms of the virus, or if it causes more severe illness or can evade the protection offered by current vaccines. But its rapid spread in South Africa has raised alarms, particularly ahead of the winter holiday season and accompanying travel and gatherings.
“While we are still determining the transmissibility and the severity of Omicron, I encourage residents and travelers to take additional steps to protect yourself and those around you by getting vaccinated or boosters, tested if you feel sick or are a close contact, and wearing your mask,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Layering on as many protections as possible will give us a better opportunity to slow the spread of this potentially dangerous variant as we prepare for holiday gatherings and a potential winter surge.”
County officials urged people to get tested if they traveled internationally over the holidays, or if they visited places with high rates of COVID-19 transmission. A testing location can be found online at https://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/.
A rapid-testing site opened at Los Angeles International Airport on Dec. 3 to offer free — but voluntary — COVID tests for arriving international passengers. The COVID testing at the Tom Bradley International Terminal is being offered strictly on a voluntary basis, since there is no federal requirement for inbound passengers to be tested.
New federal travel guidelines now require people traveling into the country from international locations to be tested within one day of departure.
UPDATE: A third known case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was also confirmed Monday, Dec. 6, in LA County; it was an individual who recently traveled from West Africa. The individual is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, has mild symptoms and is self-isolating. The person’s known close contacts are fully vaccinated and have tested negative, according to the public health department.