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Omicron in Oakland: How a Wisconsin wedding with ‘super responsible’ vaccinated people led to outbreak
Most if not all of the guests wore masks when the Nov. 27 wedding ceremony started at a Wisconsin celebration that is now the suspected origin of an outbreak of COVID-19 and the omicron variant among Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center staff, according to an attendee. But as the celebration wore on, the cocktails came out and people took to the dance floor, many leaving their masks behind, said Debra Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist and associate dean of public health at Michigan State University, who was in attendance and believes she contracted the coronavirus there.

Furr-Holden said the revelation that even this group of “risk-averse” and “super responsible people” could have let their guard down enough to become unwitting vectors of COVID-19 shows just how vulnerable even vaccinated people remain to the virus when indoors and in groups.

“We need to shift the narrative and stop calling this a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Furr-Holden said. “It doesn’t honor the fact that we’re seeing more and more breakthrough cases in the vaccinated.”

More than a dozen wedding attendees went home infected with COVID-19, including 11 people who work for Kaiser Permanente in the East Bay. Some went to work before finding out they were infected, causing potential exposure of the virus to a total of 38 other employees and patients at two Oakland hospitals, health officials said.

Thinking back on the wedding, Furr-Holden said she believes the presence of responsible, vaccinated guests provided a “false sense of security” at a time when the pandemic is exhausting yet not over. She said she kept her mask on apart from eating and drinking and left the reception early, but “that clearly wasn’t enough.”

Omicron has been detected in 25 states so far.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would have sent a nice gift and a loving handwritten card,” Furr-Holden said. “We just shouldn’t be having these large events now. If physicians and public health professionals can’t do it, there’s just no safe way to do it.”

New East Bay omicron outbreak details: Fully vaccinated, boosted Kaiser staff got COVID after out-of-state wedding
Eleven of the 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases tied to an omicron outbreak in the East Bay last week are among fully vaccinated and boosted staff members at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center, according to a spokesperson for the hospital.

The initial case was reported to the Alameda County Public Health Department by Kaiser on Nov. 30. Four days later, the department announced a dozen total suspected cases of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Officials have said that the person who first contracted omicron returned from Nigeria on Nov. 24, then attended the wedding three days later.

There are several questions about the source of the exposure that could give health officials clues as to how transmissible omicron is compared to other variants and whether it’s better able to evade vaccine immunity, Moss said.

The variant is now present in 57 countries.

There appear to be 11 confirmed cases of the omicron variant so far in California, but the real number is virtually certain to be higher. Signs of the variant have been found in the wastewater in Sacramento and Merced counties, though no omicron cases have yet been reported there.

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Image courtesy Michael Short / The Chronicle 2014

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