L.A. County records first case of Omicron variant

Los Angeles County reported its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus Thursday evening.

County health officials said the infection was most probably travel related, as the individual had returned from South Africa via London on Nov. 22.

“The individual, who is a fully vaccinated adult and a Los Angeles County resident, is self-isolating, and their symptoms are improving without medical care. A small number of close contacts in Los Angeles have been identified and, to date, all have tested negative and have no symptoms,” the county said in a statement.

Confirmation of the variant in the nation’s most populous county came as officials urged residents to get tested for the coronavirus more frequently when it makes sense to do so — particularly if they plan to travel or gather with family or friends during the holiday season.

Increased testing has long been a centerpiece of both the local and federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such screenings have grown even more important following the discovery of the new highly mutated strain.

L.A. County plans will instruct skilled nursing facilities to introduce more routine testing of residents and staff, “and to offer rapid testing for visitors that are entering any indoor spaces at these facilities,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

In partnership with the state and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the county also will set up a free rapid testing site Friday for arriving passengers at the international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.

“Testing remains essential. It’s an important tool in quickly detecting cases and allowing us, therefore, to reduce spread,” Ferrer said.

Expanded testing was also one of the primary pillars of a winter response plan President Biden unveiled earlier in the day.

Along with requiring insurance companies to reimburse people for the purchase of home tests, 50 million such tests are expected to be distributed to community health centers and rural clinics, where those without insurance can access them at no cost.

Ferrer welcomed those efforts, saying the cost — about $10 to $12 a pop — is prohibitive for some.

“So for people who don’t have those [financial] resources, it’s going to be super important that insurance covers it, and that for people who are uninsured or underinsured, that we make sure that there’s easy access,” she said during a briefing.

Rapid tests, which offer results in 15 minutes using a kit that can be taken anywhere, help people know if they’re essentially safe before heading to work or going to a social gathering, Ferrer said.

“It creates a lot of safety for you and it also creates safety for the rest of us,” she said.

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