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Local doctors urge people to take precautions to prevent spread of new Omicron variant

Doctors urge people to follow the science after Omicron variant is detected in California

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.-Infectious disease physicians are taking care of patients and trying to learn about the latest COVID19 variant.

Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons of Cottage Health said, "This is the first time we have learned about a variant of concern as it hits us."

Due to the unknowns she is urging people to get their vaccines and boosters.

"You still have time to get vaccinated today, this week, this weekend, please, please, please think hard about it, you are going to need that protection as we enter this tough winter season."

She said the scientific community is working to learn more about the new variant named after the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet.

"We have a lot yet to learn about Omicron, I am worried that we may be getting bad news in these coming weeks and we still have time to prevent huge surges in our community. Now is the time to do whatever we can to really prevent COVID19 here in Santa Barbara County."

She doesn't want people to be complacent or fooled into thinking the COVID19 pandemic is gone.

"We still have case rates that are comparable to some of the worst times of the last year and a half. We still have approximately 10 new cases per day, per 100,000 residents in our county. This disease is still with us, and it is still very important to wear a mask, get vaccinated, and to take precautions to keep yourself and your family safe."

Dr. Fitzgibbons said the case in San Francisco involving a vaccinated traveler who had not yet gotten a booster is a signal that the new variant is here and needs to be taken seriously.

Dr. Davis Fisk of the Sansum Clinic and Cottage Health is not surprised by the confirmation of the California case.

"I think the issue with Omicron is that we know it is just emerging, we are just learning about it. It has probably been around a lot longer than we actually thought, we are just now starting to figure it out."

Like the more contagious Delta variant, Dr. Fisk said Omicron appears to be quite transmissible.

"I think the issue with it is, yes, we have to pay attention to it, we have to stay attuned because of the potential of global spread in a short amount of time, but there are really more unknowns than there are knowns at this point."

He wants to know more about how dangerous it is and how it behaves with vaccines and antibody treatments.

"We are paying attention to it, it definitely has our attention, but really the primary message right now is; we have Delta on our hands, the Delta variant, we have a bad situation with Delta in Santa Barbara, as well as nationally."

They are focused on the Delta variant because it is the variant with the most local data.

"The case numbers are increasing we fully expect hospitalization increases to follow and that is a very dangerous version of the virus, " said Dr. Fisk.

He said people who got vaccinated earlier this year are facing the waning benefits of their vaccines.

"Remember we can all shed the virus, we can feel perfectly fine whatever variant it is, that is one of the trickiest things about this infection.

He said unvaccinated people with COVID can unknowingly pass it on.

"We might feel 100 percent, like we are ready to run a marathon, but actually infect the person next to us," said Dr. Fisk.

Both infectious disease physicians urge people to wash their hands, and wear masks indoors.

Vaccines are really where it is at. Masking still provides very significant safety precautions for all of us when we are indoors, and wearing a mask when you are inside makes it safer for you and makes everyone around you safer from you because remember we can all shed the virus."

This holiday season Theresa Garcia of Lompoc said she plans to "Stay home a lot and get a booster shot that is what I am going to do."

That is what these doctors on the front lines of the pandemic want to hear.

They say now is the opportune time to get the booster before the New Year.

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Tracy Lehr

Tracy Lehr is a reporter and the weekend anchor of News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Tracy, click here

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