Important California: What we have realized about Omicron, the extremely fast-moving variant

Kurchatov Good morning and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, December 23rd. Shelby Grad, Scott Sandell, and Amy Hubbard (yes, three of us!) Stand up for Justin Ray as we head into the vacation weekend. Just a quick programming note: The newsletter is free on Fridays and Saturdays and back in your inbox on Mondays.

The Omicron variant made it to California with a vengeance. LA County saw its daily cases double, at what a health official has described as “harrowing” rates.

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know:

Bad, but how bad? Because Omicron is so easily transferable, it is spreading at an unprecedented pace. However, there are also increasing indications that the variant caused less severe cases than the delta variant that has dominated for months. This, along with the increase in vaccinations and booster vaccinations, makes health professionals cautiously optimistic that there won’t be as many serious illnesses or deaths this winter compared to last winter’s surge. The biggest concern right now is that Omicron could spread so quickly that some hospitals could again be overwhelmed, even as fewer people become seriously ill, and the strain could take a devastating toll in areas with low vaccination rates. Los Angeles times

Key Prediction: A very influential COVID-19 forecast predicts that the Omicron surge could result in up to 400,000 new coronavirus cases per day nationwide – well above last winter’s record of 250,000 per day. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that the Omicron surge will rise rapidly through December and into January, and possibly peak in the next month or early February. Los Angeles times

LA County popped: More than 6,500 additional infections were reported on Wednesday alone. “It’s a very challenging time over the holidays,” the county public health director Barbara Ferrer told reporters. “If our case numbers continue to skyrocket this week and next, we could be looking at case numbers we’ve never seen before.” Los Angeles Times

What do we measure With Omicron appearing to cause fewer serious illnesses than Delta, COVID-19 hospital admissions will be a more relevant way in the coming days to determine actions local authorities may need to take, an expert said. This is because, while Omicron spreads quickly, a relatively high percentage of those infected remain who remain asymptomatic. Los Angeles times

Emotional Scars: The mental and emotional toll of yet another vacation turned upside down by COVID is real. How to cope? Here are some reminders of what causes fear and tips on how to face uncertainty with a clear head. Los Angeles times

More news about the coronavirus

  • A Marin County social gathering that saw 28 people test positive for the coronavirus is a cautionary story. Los Angeles times
  • The Pfizer pill could be a game changer as the first US-approved COVID home treatment. Los Angeles times
  • Some potentially positive news from South Africa, where the huge Omicron wave seems to be subsiding as quickly as it has grown. Washington Post
  • … And from Europe, where three research teams report that Omicron infections are milder. New York Times
  • What cancels COVID-19? We have a running list. Los Angeles times
  • Home tests are in short supply. Los Angeles times
  • How Long Should You Isolate If Vaccinated and Have COVID-19? Mercury news
  • Cal State now mandates booster shots. Los Angeles times

And now this is happening across California:

Note: Some of the websites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without a subscription.


We start our California tour with the Almanac, because it should be “raining everywhere” by this afternoon. So said forecasters calling for a slow winter storm that would rock northern California with rain and snow before heading south. Rainfall began yesterday for parts of the state, but was not expected to slide into LA County until today, the National Weather Service said. Los Angeles times

Just take a look at this very squishy almanac:

Los Angeles: rain, 57th San Diego: rain, 61st San Francisco: rain, 57th San Jose: rain, 62. Fresno: rain, 57th Sacramento: rain, 57.


That is the sound of silence at Mater Dei. High school and Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange are charged with trying to cover up a brutal locker room altercation in which a player suffered traumatic brain injury. The school is committed to reviewing safety protocols as part of the athletics program. But otherwise, employees, parents, students and the diocese have largely closed. Mater Dei has one of the best high school football programs in the country and is a strong fundraising powerhouse. Supporters and staff of the program have fallen back on a wall of silence. Orange County’s Bishop Kevin Vann issued a public statement denouncing coverage of the lawsuit as “media frenzy” that is “worrying and sad.” Los Angeles times

The huge network of influential supporters and alumni of the Mater Dei High School has largely kept the scandal secret.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Cara Schneider, a Fairfax High School graduate and longtime teacher and administrator in Los Angeles, knew her students well. She knew they spoke Spanish so she learned the language. She knew they needed a dose of joy – and knowledge of the Beatles in their lives – so she would broadcast “Here Comes the Sun” over the school intercom once a week. She died last month at the age of 58. Los Angeles Times


Hotels will soon move away from housing the homeless as part of the Roomkey project. Nearly 1,400 rooms are still rented under this program – which provided a much-needed landing pad when the city went on missions to help people and clear large camps. Plans may change, but hotels will be closed to Project Roomkey participants in the New Year, writes Benjamin Oreskes of The Times. The officials of the city and the district are in a small race against time. They have to hand out thousands of rental vouchers received from various stimulus programs. Los Angeles times

What will your convention district look like? An independent government body has redrawn the boundaries for California’s congressional boroughs. Put your address on our map to see how your district has changed. Los Angeles times


The ACLU has accused Tulare County of “seriously inadequate” prenatal care in its prisons. County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux denies the allegations. The ACLU detailed stories of three women who were allegedly denied adequate prenatal care. One interviewed by the Fresno Bee described a “traumatizing” experience where she bled for three days before being rushed to hospital. Fresno bee

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at


San Francisco has a number of mega-housing projects on track for 2022. Even if smaller projects are pending due to market uncertainty and astronomical construction costs, San Francisco’s colossal multi-phase projects will move forward at full speed. San Francisco Chronicle

Low Bridge Ahead: The main engine on Tower Bridge between Sacramento and West Sacramento has broken, causing the bridge to stay in the down position. Although a California Department of Transportation spokesman said it was safe for vehicles to cross the bridge, boats on the Sacramento River will have difficulty getting through it. Sacramento bee

Geese walk on a path near a bridge.

Tower Bridge in Sacramento on November 11th.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The Cowboys of Baja California: “While cowboy culture north of the border has become a shadow of itself, some insist that Baja’s off-grid vaqueros still embody the harsh individualism of US legends.” National Geographic

Shaun Piccinino from Chico hit gold with his original Netflix film “A California Christmas”. Now the filmmaker hopes that the sequel will be just as successful – so that he can shoot a third part. Chico Enterprise record

Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll love our daily podcast, The Times, hosted every weekday by columnist Gustavo Arellano along with reporters from our newsroom. Go beyond the headlines. Download and listen to our app, subscribe to Apple Podcasts and follow Spotify.


Today’s California memory is from Jane Anne Staw:

One morning in late December 1981, my five-year-old son and I left Iowa City, where the temperature was below zero, and arrived in Berkeley, where the sun was shining and the air was swaying in the high 50s. My son immediately tore off his down parka, slipped off his winter boots, and ran up and down our block of Garber Street in shirt sleeves, hands spread like wings, celebrating the golden California climate. He’s now the father of two lovely girls, but I often remember his sheer joy in the warmth all those years ago.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please limit your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button