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The Monterey County Health Department announced today that six cases of the Covid-19 variant known as omicron have been detected among Monterey County residents.

The department said it will not be releasing any personal information about the first six cases, such as health status, age or gender to protect the identity of the patients.

The county's public health laboratory identified the omicron variant by whole genome sequencing of surveillance specimens submitted by local medical providers, according to a press release. The specimens were collected from mid-December up to this week, indicating the variant has been present in Monterey County for at least a week.

Based on how quickly omicron has spread in other parts of the world and country—it's now the dominant variant in the U.S. after only a few weeks—local health officials are warning residents to expect a surge of Covid cases in coming weeks.

It's still not known if omicron results in more or less severe disease than other variants but there is growing evidence that booster shots may be protective against the new variant. Breakthrough cases appear to be happening more with omicron. 

Vaccines and boosters are readily available in the county. Go to myturn.ca.gov or montereycountyvaccines.com for locations and more information.

With holiday gatherings happening over the next two weekends, it's important to keep up mask wearing, social distancing, limiting the size of gatherings and moving events outdoors if possible. For those with very young children who cannot yet be vaccinated, or elderly or other high-risk individuals regardless of vaccination status, cancelling or postponing events might be something to consider, especially if others around them are not vaccinated and boosted.

Testing is recommended prior to travel and gatherings, as well as three to five days after. Test site location information for free and no cost vaccines using insurance is also available from montereycountyvaccines.com. Note that sites will not be open Dec. 24-25 and Dec. 30-31.

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