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Omicron surge has hit San Diego, expected to get worse by New Year’s Day

Doctors say around 90% of our most recent positive tests are the omicron variant, and our seven-day average is heading in the wrong direction.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Researchers at UC San Diego have been testing our wastewater and they are seeing a COVID virus spike. This wastewater testing is a leading indicator – meaning the virus will show up in our stool before we feel any symptoms. As a result, researchers know a COVID surge is coming.

Fearing the worst, San Diegans lined up around testing centers across the county. At the City Heights Recreation Center Monday, the line wrapped halfway around the building. Mark Bihm was among those waiting. “I have a cold and I have family coming in for Christmas so I'm just checking to make sure I'm ok - so they'll be ok,” he said.

It's hitting San Diego hard. Doctors say around 90% of our most recent positive tests are the omicron variant, and our seven-day average is heading in the wrong direction.

“Our positivity rate on testing has really soared,” said Dr. Chris Longhurst, Chief Medical Officer at UC San Diego Health.

He said people who are vaccinated and boosted can still get the omicron variant, but they don't seem to end up with severe disease or in a hospital. That said, he's still very concerned because they do have to quarantine - which means there could be fewer doctors and nurses available for those who do end up in the ICU. 

“Unfortunately, these huge spikes in cases are already taking out some of our health care workers and other critical employees and infrastructure and so this is going to be a real problem as we see fewer and fewer health care workers who are healthy enough to go to work," he said. 

Dr. Longhurst added that the timing couldn't be worse. With rain on the way, people will spend more time together indoors. He’s glad to see so many people opting to get tested before gathering on Christmas Day. 

“Test before that big holiday dinner,” he said. “Test before getting together with people you haven't seen in a while that you're going to eat with. That indoor eating is one of the highest risk activities for transmission.”

Many people say they've actually made testing a prerequisite to their holiday gathering. 

“I have an 89-year-old mother so I don't want to expose her,” said Humberto Villegas. He was also in line at the City Heights Rec Center waiting to be tested. “I have family coming from Washington State so we're concerned. We're all getting tested.”

The county has several walk-up sites available. At the one in City Heights Monday, the wait for most people ended up being less than an hour. Results are typically sent within 72 hours of testing.