First case of Omicron variant confirmed in Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County has detected its first case of the Omicron variant. The infected person was vaccinated and began to feel ill November 30 after traveling to Florida. 

Health officials say this highlights the importance of getting boosters.

"They are fully vaccinated but not boosted. Their illness was mild," said Santa Clara County Health Officer Doctor Sara Cody.

Health officials see this as a wake up call, that battling this new variant will take boosters. Right now just 39% of the eligible population is boosted in Santa Clara County.

In the 18-49 age group, that number is just 20%.

"Having just that primary series, two doses. It's not enough. It's just not enough," said Santa Clara County Testing Officer Doctor Marty Fenstersheib.

Some counties, like Marin, are making changes, using hospitalization rates instead of daily case rates to determine policy.

In Santa Clara County, they're taking a multi-pronged approach.

"As we transition to more in home tests which are not reportable to us, it becomes even more important to have other systems to look at," said Cody.

For example, they'll test raw sewage.

On the same day health officials received the positive omicron test, they also detected omicron in the sewer system near where that person lives.

A program called Scan, in partnership with Stanford and Emory Universities, tests four sewer sheds every day.

"People excrete the virus in their feces. So that can happen even before somebody feels sick, before they experience their first symptoms. And it can also happen in someone who is asymptomatic," said Emory University Assistant Professor Marlene Wolfe.

They'll now use this system to see whether this case leads to others.

"They are the first report, I'm confident they are not the first case or the only case, and I anticipate we will hear of many more omicron cases in the very near future," said Cody.

Authorities say with the arrival of Omicron variant, this is also a good time to rededicate ourselves to things like testing, masking, and social distancing.