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Take action to stay COVID-safe during the holidays

By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Staff Writer

With vaccines readily available, you can venture out for some holiday cheer by taking precautions according to a media briefing hosted by Vaccinate ALL 58 as part of the California Department of Public Health’s Week of Action (Dec. 13-17). Moderated by Regina Wilson of California Black Media, Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency spoke to reporters via Zoom.

Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the first vaccine dose administered in California. Ghaly noted that environmental sampling of wastewater has indicated the presence of the new variant omicron in California. “We see the omicron is in many parts of our state and growing.”

“We still have so much to learn about the omicron variant,” he continued. “We know that it’s a variant of concern, that it’s highly transmissible–more transmissible than the Delta variant.”

At this time, however, Delta is still the dominant variant in California. “Delta is the variant that is causing people to become sick, to become hospitalized and, sadly, we’re still losing Californians across the state (to this variant),” he explained.

“We know that the vaccines confer some significant degree of protection,” Ghaly said, “but we’re concerned that it may not be as protective against omicron as it’s been against Delta or other variants.” He added, “There is much more to learn, that is part of why as we enter this month of celebration, of gratitude, of counting our blessings, with family and the holidays when people naturally mix more and spend  time traveling and inviting guests from outside of our communities into the communities.”

This week California reinstituted the indoor mask requirement in counties and in sections of the state where we don’t currently have an indoor masking requirement.

Taking these precautions will give health officials time to assess omicron, particularly considering the season brings with it a rise in influenza cases. 

In short, the recommended precautions for traveling are:

  • Get tested before you travel.  It’s free and readily available. You can get it two days before you go. 
  •  Get vaccinated or get your booster shot. Boosters are recommended two months after a Johnson & Johnson vaccination and six months after the second shot for Moderna or Pfizer. 
  • Wear a face mask when you’ll be close to people whose vaccination status you don’t know.
  • If you’re experiencing symptoms or are sick, stay home.

If you’re considering, going to an event, be sure to read the COVID-19 precautions of the venue. In California, attendance of indoor mega-events require proof that the attendee is either fully vaccinated or has received a negative COVID-19 test. Mega-events are conventions, conferences, expos, concerts, parades, etc., where more than 1,000 people will gather indoors or 10,000 or more people will gather outdoors. Some events might require a test as well.

In addition, Ghaly suggested that people talk about getting vaccinated with others, including those who are against vaccinations. 

“For some people who  say, I can just beat COVID I’ve seen others do it, I hope you can but you may be among the unlucky few who don’t and the many more who end up having long-term symptoms, so getting a vaccine that’s safe and effective and free is pretty simple in the relative scheme of things.” He also noted, “The vaccines we have are very very effective even in the face of changing variants.”

In the future, Ghaly said, vaccinations will be easier to get. Schools will become vaccination centers, not only for their students but also for their families and neighbors. There’s a real concern for equity of vaccination availability, particularly with many communities of color being part of frontline workers who remain particularly vulnerable to the public. 

Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Ghaly to his position in 2019, before the start of the pandemic. Previously Ghaly had worked in health leadership roles in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 2011, Ghaly was the Deputy Director for Community Health and Integrated Programs for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. He had served as the Medical Director of the Southeast Health Center in San Francisco.

On Wednesday, a day after the Zoom press briefing, the state of California allowed the city of San Francisco an exemption from the reinstated indoor mask mandate according to NPR.

The official state web page on COVID-19 notes that Asian Americans account for 11.3 percent of the confirmed deaths. Black patients are 6.8 percent and White patients are 32.7 percent of confirmed deaths. Latinos, however, account for 45.5 percent of confirmed deaths and makeup 52.3 percent of confirmed cases. Asian Americans are 6.8 percent of confirmed cases.

For the latest information on COVID-19 in Cailfornia, visit COVID19.ca.gov.

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