Fresno County now testing for Omicron variant of COVID-19

The Valley has not yet seen any cases of the new Omicron COVID variant.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The state is now helping track a new COVID strain in Fresno County.

The Omicron variant hasn't yet been identified in local cases but health officials will now have a much better idea of when it arrives.

Very few COVID cases in the Valley have undergone whole-genome sequencing in the past.

But the process is now available to test Fresno County cases for the new variant.

Many families are planning large holiday gatherings.

To keep them safe, Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra would like to see the rate of fully vaccinated people in Fresno County move beyond 53%.

The Valley has not yet seen any cases of the new Omicron COVID variant.

"Sooner or later that (the arrival of the Omicron variant) is going to happen and we need to prepare for that eventuality," he said.

The state is now offering resources and putting more local COVID cases through genome sequencing.

Some private labs are also now capable of helping identify the Omicron variant.

"50% of the positive samples in Fresno County are being whole-genome sequenced as well so that's feeding into the database the state is reviewing," said Fresno County Health Department Assistant Director Joe Prado Joe Prado.

It remains to be seen now easily transmissible Omicron will be and how effective vaccines are against the new strain.

But the Delta variant continues to infect Valley residents.

Dr. Vohra said the next few weeks will be critical.

"If we do get a winter surge it will show up within the month of December and if it starts then it may last throughout the winter months," he said.

Prado said half of the people now getting vaccinated are receiving booster shots.

Some people recently had their appointments canceled because pharmacies ran out of the vaccine.

"Sometimes we hear providers run low. They're having bigger turnouts than they anticipated so we've been feeding actually thousands out of our freezers just to be able to support those needs," he said.

Dr. Vohra added the vaccine still offers the best protection against COVID.

Once a COVID case has been submitted for genome sequencing, it takes about two weeks to determine the variant responsible for the infection.

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