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COVID: Health Experts Tout New Tools to Slow the Spread of Omicron Variant

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread across the Bay Area, many residents are taking precautions in the final days before Christmas, even as new treatments become available.

Consider it a sign of the holidays under the highly contagious coronavirus variant: next to the big Christmas tree in Union Square, there's a tent and a a line of people waiting for free COVID-19 rapid tests.

Folks said they weren't changing their holiday plans this Christmas, but many said they are taking more precautions. Esther Lemus and her family are heading to Texas for the holiday.

"I may test once I arrive and, of course, once I get back as well. We are also going to be taking some safety measures with my in-laws," said Lemus.

In both Marin and San Francisco Counties, omicron is now the dominant variant. Thursday marked the highest case count ever in Marin County for the entire pandemic with 174 cases. The good news was that only six patients were hospitalized.

"That's a reassuring sign that there's been this uncoupling of case rates from hospitalizations and we think that it's probably because of our high vaccination rates," said Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis.

It's not just lower hospitalizations giving hope, but the variety of vaccines and new therapies available for patients, including monoclonal antibodies, broad-spectrum antiviral treatment remdesivir and Pfizer's newly approved antiviral pill Paxlovid. All tools that weren't available last holiday season.

"Our death rates are 1/10 of what they were a few months ago," said Dr. Willis.

A new study out of UCSF could add to that list as well. Dr. Nevan Krogan and his team have found mutations not in the infamous spikes of the coronavirus, but elsewhere.

"The virus is mutating and it's allowing increased transmissibility, but as it's mutating it's allowing us to pinpoint some of it's key features that we can narrow in on to come up with therapies," said Dr. Krogan.

He says the virus is revealing it's secrets. The hope is discoveries like his can lead to new drugs -- that can be cocktailed with Paxlovid and be made effective against the virus.

"The question is can we just get like a few steps ahead of it and the scientific community is working very collaboratively around the world to do just that," Dr. Krogan explained.

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