Omicron False Alarm in Santa Barbara

Errors Led to Reports Locally, but More Cases Detected Nationally

Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Santa Barbara experienced a hectic Friday morning when news broke that two Omicron contacts here were linked to the first case in San Francisco. However, by late morning, the state health department had retracted all the information related to the two potential cases. “There are zero Omicron cases in town,” confirmed Jackie Ruiz, public information officer for Santa Barbara County Public Health.

Ruiz explained what had happened: “We had thought there were two potential contacts linked to Santa Barbara County. CDPH [California Department of Public Health] corrected that. There had been a misclassification and information had been entered twice,” Ruiz said. The single case wasn’t a contact related to the first Omicron case, she said; in fact, it wasn’t connected to Santa Barbara County at all. “So nothing of what they originally told us actually happened.” As the state races to contain any outbreak from the new extremely contagious variant, “information is constantly being updated, and the situation is very fluid,” Ruiz said.

Nationwide, more cases are being reported in Los Angeles, St. Louis, southwest Utah, and New York City boroughs. Internationally, researchers are confirming that Omicron has reinfected people who’d recovered previously from a bout with COVID-19. South Africa’s Tulio de Oliveira, who was early to describe important aspects of the variant and criticized the travel bans that followed, suggested a ban for the United States might be in order and also credited Dr. Sikhulile Moyo of the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership with being the first to report this new variant to the international database GISAID.

While Santa Barbara awaits its first real Omicron case, County Public Health has extended its indoor mask order for another 30 days, through January 2. To be able to lift the order, the county would need to be at 7 cases per 100,000 people or lower for three consecutive weeks. It first reached that level on November 26. A second consideration is low and stable hospitalizations for at least three days.

For indoor school-age athletics and band practice, students may participate without face coverings as long as regular testing takes place. The full Health Officer Order can be found here.

Credit: Courtesy

Correction: This story was corrected to reflect that Dr. Tulio de Oliveira (@Tuliodna) summarized important aspects of the new variant on November 25, after the finding was announced by South Africa’s National Health Laboratory Service (@NICD_SA) that day.


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