SAN LUIS OBIPSO — The County of San Luis Obispo Public Health Department reported seven additional cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in San Luis Obispo County on Tuesday, Dec. 29. 

SLO County has added 659 new cases of COVID-19 over the last week, with 21 residents in the hospital, including eight people in the intensive care unit. 

Officials say it is likely that additional cases of the Omicron variant are in SLO County; only a small percentage of cases are sampled to determine their strain.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

“Omicron is here in our community, and we know it spreads more quickly and easily than any strain of COVID-19 we have seen so far,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer. “We have the tools and resources to slow its spread: vaccines, boosters, and masking up in indoor public spaces. If you feel sick, even a little bit, the best thing to do is to get tested and stay home.” 

Masking is required in indoor public places in San Luis Obispo County and statewide. Vaccines—both boosters and primary series—are available at no cost at pharmacies, doctors’ offices, Public Health Department clinics, and mobile clinics countywide. 

On Thursday, Dec. 30 the county will host a COVID-19 Pop-Up Rapid Testing Event for community members to receive a free COVID-19 rapid test before New Year’s Eve.

Rapid antigen tests will be available from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Atascadero Lake Park Pavilion Community Room. (No tests will be conducted between 12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. to accommodate staff lunchtime.) 

Approximately 150 tests will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis to those age two and older. Those under the age of 18 will need consent from a parent or guardian. 

“It’s a good idea to get tested before any gathering, especially as we see cases increase, to ensure that everyone is as safe as possible,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer. “Those who test positive will know they should isolate and protect their loved ones from COVID-19.”

No appointments will be taken for the event. If demand is high, it is possible that some residents may need to wait in line outside. It is recommended to dress accordingly and wear layers to be prepared for inclement weather.

Free testing is also available by appointment at community testing sites in Grover Beach, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, and San Luis Obispo, with results generally available in about two days. 

Earlier this week, on Dec. 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that due to current reports on COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, they are shortening the recommended time for isolation for the public. 

People with COVID-19 should now isolate for five days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by five days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter. 

The CDC states that the change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to the onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.

Additionally, the CDC is updating the recommended quarantine period for anyone in the general public who is exposed to COVID-19. For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than two months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for five days followed by strict mask use for an additional five days. Alternatively, if a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for ten days after exposure. 

Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure but should wear a mask for ten days after the exposure. For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for SARS-CoV-2 at day five after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.

According to the CDC isolation relates to behavior after a confirmed infection. Isolation for five days followed by wearing a well-fitting mask will minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others. Quarantine refers to the time following exposure to the virus or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19. Both updates come as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. and reflects the current science on when and for how long a person is maximally infectious. These recommendations do not supersede state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, nor do they apply to healthcare workers for whom CDC has updated guidance.

Data from South Africa and the United Kingdom demonstrate that vaccine effectiveness against infection for two doses of an mRNA vaccine is approximately 35 percent. A COVID-19 vaccine booster dose restores vaccine effectiveness against infection to 75 percent. COVID-19 vaccination decreases the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. CDC strongly encourages COVID-19 vaccination for everyone five and older and boosters for everyone 16 and older. 

For updates on COVID-19 in SLO County, visit slopublichealth.org/COVID19 or call the recorded Public Health Information Line at (805) 788-2903. Phone assistance is available at (805) 781-5500 Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.