Omicron: Health experts say Bay Area may be more protected from new COVID variant

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Dominating the headlines across the world is the latest variant of concern: the omicron. It's a variant first detected in South Africa last week.

There are confirmed cases in more than a dozen countries but not in the U.S.

That includes Santa Clara County where health officials say it's too early to sound the alarms locally.

"With every new twist and turn in this pandemic, including with the omicron variant, we'll do what we always do," Santa Clara County public health director Dr. Sara Cody said. "We'll learn about it, we follow the science and we'll adjust as needed."

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Despite the havoc the delta variant has caused the U.S., some fear the omicron could be worse because of the high-transmission rates of this virus and it's number of mutations.

The delta variant had less than 20 mutations while the omicron has 50. These mutations allow the virus to attach to a host's cells easier and for longer periods of time.

South Africa is facing more than 2,000 cases a day and the unvaccinated account for 75% of those cases.

For this reason, UCSF Infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong says the Bay Area may be better off.

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"I think in the Bay Area, we may be a bit more protected than most," Dr. Chin-Hong said. "But, I do worry about some regions that are going to see a run of hospitalizations, calling on the National Guard to help and over and over again we will see this pattern emerge."

Despite a worrisome outlook, Dr. Chin-Hong believes the fast response time the world is having to Omicron could make this more of a false alarm.

Dr. Sara Cody and Santa Clara County had a quick response when the pandemic first began and she says the same approach should benefit us now.

"We've learned about what works and we will continue to apply what works, and that includes vaccination and boosting and testing and ventilation and masking, and all the things that this community in particular has done an excellent job at and I'm sure we'll continue," Dr. Cody said.

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