Kaiser Permanente said Wednesday that 11 of its vaccinated and boosted Oakland Medical Center workers were among a cluster of East Bay COVID-19 cases linked to the omicron variant that has alarmed health officials worldwide, and that at least 16 patients and other staff were exposed to them.
The revelation comes five days after Alameda County health officials said they were investigating 12 local COVID-19 cases linked to a Nov. 27 wedding in Wisconsin, which one of the infected people had attended upon return from international travel, and that at least five were confirmed to have the omicron variant.
As of Wednesday, six of those 12 cases now have been confirmed to be the omicron variant, Alameda County health officials said. The virus hasn’t yet spread beyond that group — a hopeful sign that public health measures have been able to contain the variant’s spread — but test results still are pending.
“As of yesterday afternoon we had not documented any local transmission of COVID-19 connected to this outbreak, but the investigation is ongoing” Alameda County health spokeswoman Neetu Balram said.
“We know it is possible to prevent or slow the spread of COVID by taking safety precautions like staying at home when sick, masking, and getting tested,” Balram said. “It is likely that these factors have helped limit detected spread in Alameda County, thus far. However, local transmission connected to this outbreak may yet be detected.”
Kaiser said Wednesday that 11 of those 12 were its Oakland Medical Center staff, all of whom were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and had received booster shots.
“These staff members’ exposure to COVID-19 happened at a wedding out-of-state, not through their work at the medical center,” Kaiser said in a statement Wednesday, indicating those workers “are isolated at home with mild symptoms.”
Kaiser said eight patients and eight staff were potentially exposed to those workers and are isolated and being tested, with no confirmed COVID-19 cases among them so far. Of those, 13 have tested negative for COVID-19 and results are pending for the rest.
“The potential window of exposure at our facility was brief and isolated, as the few affected staff members, who are in patient-facing roles, worked briefly prior to being symptomatic or tested,” Kaiser said. “All adhered to COVID-19 infection prevention guidance while in the facility.”
Kaiser said the mild symptoms of the infected staff are “consistent with the reported severity experienced by other people who are vaccinated and contracted this illness.”
Any employee or physician confirmed to have COVID-19 or suspected of having COVID-19 due to symptoms will not come to work, Kaiser said, in adherence with CDC isolation protocols.
“The health and safety of our patients, employees, and physicians is always our highest priority,” Kaiser said. “This includes making sure they are as protected as much as possible from COVID-19. We believe that vaccination is the best defense against COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death.”
Friday’s announcement followed the report a week ago of the first U.S. omicron case, a San Francisco resident who recently had traveled to South Africa, where the variant’s rapid spread first alarmed health officials. It has since been found in more than 30 other countries.
A day after the San Francisco case was announced, the omicron was confirmed in several other states from coast to coast — Hawaii, Colorado, Wisconsin and New York.
The California Department of Public Health did not have an updated report on how many omicron cases are currently confirmed in California.
San Francisco health officials Wednesday also had no update on whether any people exposed to that initial case have since tested positive and were confirmed to have the omicron variant.
Santa Clara County health officials said in a statement Wednesday that no omicron variant cases had yet been detected in the county.
“We are looking for evidence of the omicron variant in both samples from cases as well as in our wastewater,” Santa Clara County health officials said. “However, we want to emphasize that even with these surveillance systems in place, the absence of detection does not mean the absence of a case, and we anticipate that we will likely soon see a case.”
Health officials in Contra Costa County said Wednesday they too had no cases yet of the omicron variant to report, but advised that could change any moment.
“It’s difficult to speculate about why or why not,” Contra Costa County health spokesman Karl Fischer said. “It is likely the virus is circulating at a low level in the Bay Area.”
On Wednesday, Pfizer announced that preliminary laboratory studies showed three doses of its COVID-19 vaccine neutralize the omicron variant while two doses show significantly reduced protection.
“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla in a statement.
Though the infected Kaiser staff were vaccinated and received booster doses, Balram said Wednesday that “it continues to be important for everyone to get vaccinated and boosted, if eligible.”
Check back for updates.