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Santa Monica COVID Cases Spike to One-Year High as Omicron Spreads

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By Jorge Casuso

December 20, 2021 -- Weekly coronavirus cases tripled in Santa Monica last week as the Omicron variant spreads, jumping from 119 to 363 confirmed cases, the highest tally in a year, according to LA County Health data.

The spike comes as the milder Omicron variant overtook Delta as the most common variant in the nation, accounting for nearly three quarters of all new cases reported last week.

Santa Monica saw the most weekly cases since 365 cases were confirmed during Christmas week last year, making it the second-highest tally since the virus was first detected in the city on March 16, 2020.

It brings the total number of cases reported in the city of 93,000 to 7,658, according to County data. The number of virus-related deaths remained at 196.

Santa Monica's dramatic spike reflects a countywide jump in cases -- from 1,138 confirmed cases on Tuesday to 3,730 on Saturday, a 228 percent increase.

Over those four days, the number of people in LA County hospitalized with COVID-19 increased by 4 percent, from 718 confirmed cases to 749.

That compares to 6,914 people hospitalized with the virus during Christmas week last year.

Early data shows that the Omicron variant spreads far more rapidly that previous variants but is milder, thriving in the airways and not the lungs and causing symptoms similar to a common cold.

Last week, Omicron accounted for 73.2 percent of new cases nationwide, up from 12.6 percent the previous week, according to data released by the CDC Monday.

The variant is now confirmed in every state but Oklahoma, Montana, the Dakotas, Indiana and Vermont.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most of the early confirmed cases of the varient have been mild. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said early data has shown that the Omicron variant may cause less severe disease.

The first suspected Omicron-related death in the U.S. -- that of an unvaccinated man in his 50s with underlying health conditions -- was reported Thursday in Harris County, Texas.

In LA County, most of the early confirmed cases have been among the vaccinated, County Health data shows.

New research conducted at the University of Cambridge shows that the Omicron variant may be significantly better at evading vaccine-induced antibodies that previous variants.

"The Omicron variant appears to be much better than Delta at evading neutralizing antibodies in individuals who have received just two doses of the vaccine," said Ravi Gupta, a professor at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease.

While a "booster" shot with the Pfizer vaccine resulted in a significant increase in neutralization, researchers expect "a waning in immunity to occur over time," Gupta said.

Since Omicron began spreading, masking and vaccine mandates have been reimposed in numerous communities across the country, Broadway shows and sporting matches have been canceled and many colleges have returned to online classes.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden, issued an ominous warning after a crucial COVID-19 task force meeting.

“For unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death -- if you’re unvaccinated -- for themselves, their families, and the hospitals they’ll soon overwhelm,” Biden told reporters.

Nationwide, hospitalizations have increased from some 47,000 on November 8 to some 68,000, but they have been "driven by the delta variant," according to a Washington Post analysis of the data.

Biden will focus on the Omicron variant during a speech scheduled for Tuesday.

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