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COVID-19 Update: Cases Rising Again; Test Positivity Jumps; State Pauses School Vaccine Mandate


We seem to be in a rather interesting phase of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic at the moment – as the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron becomes the dominant strain of the virus locally, nationally, and internationally, cases and test positivity are rising again, while various safety regulations continue to relax or are shelved altogether.

In her weekly address on Thursday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported that for the second week in a row, new COVID-19 cases rose again (see chart above), with both the overall number up 16% from the week before, and the 7-day average rising as well.  In addition, the test positivity rate had risen to 1.7% on Thursday (up from just 1.0% a week earlier)…and then, just a day later, on Friday, the number jumped to 2.4%, with 1,355 new cases reported.



The good news, however, is that while case rates are definitely increasing at what Ferrer called a “substantial” rate of transmission, both hospitalizations and deaths (which do tend to lag a bit behind the new case rate) are so far still falling or at least stable.



Also good news is that vaccines still appear to be highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths, with people who are fully vaccinated now 1.9 times less likely to be infected than those who are unvaccinated, four times less likely to be hospitalized, and 10.5 times less likely to die from a COVID-19 infection.



However, Ferrer also reported that a new study has confirmed what health officials have long suspected – that the reported COVID-19 case numbers are actually a lot lower than the actual number of cases in the community.  In fact, according to the study, Ferrer said, there have probably been three times more cases than officially reported among LA County adults, and five times more cases in children.



The reasons for the under-counts, Ferrer said, include that many people don’t bother to get tested when they get sick, and many people just take rapid tests at home and never report their positive results.  According to the study, however, it’s possible that as many as 30% of LA County residents have had COVID so far, and only 10% of those cases have been reported…meaning the pandemic has had an even greater impact than previously thought.

Given all of these these numbers this week – the rise in new cases, the larger numbers of people who have been infected than originally thought, and the continuing effectiveness of vaccines, even against the newest variants – Ferrer said it’s still very important to get as many people as possible vaccinated against COVID-19, and for as many people as possible – including those over the age of 50, who are especially vulnerable – to receive booster shots.  So far, however, Ferrer reported that while 65% of Angelenos ages 50-64, and 74% of those over the age of 65 have received one booster shot, only 7% and 12% of those age groups, respectively, have so far received their recommended second booster.



In other information provided yesterday, Ferrer reported that despite our rising case numbers and “substantial” transmission rate, LA County does still meet the CDC’s threshold for “low” community levels (with no immediate threats to our health care system)…



…and the only early-alert metric of concern this week is the percentage of new cases identified as a “variant of concern,” which includes the BA.2 Omicron subvariant.



As officials have predicted for several weeks now, BA.2 is now the dominant strain of the virus in LA County, representing 66.8% of all samples sequenced.  Ferrer added, however, that since this data lags by a couple of weeks, the percentage is likely now quite a bit higher than that, and we’ll see the numbers rise more in the next few weeks.



Among two other early-warning metrics being tracked by the County, Ferrer reported that the percentage of emergency room visits related to COVID-19 is still declining…



…while COVID-19 levels in wastewater are up a bit, but still safely below the average from two weeks ago, which does not trigger any concern among health officials.



Meanwhile, school outbreaks, testing, test positivity, and cases were also down this week, though many schools have been on spring break.



In other school news this week, however, California Governor Gavin Newsom paused plans to require COVID-19 vaccinations for school students ages 12 and older, for at least a year, because the FDA has not yet fully approved vaccines for that age group. Also, on the same day, State Senator Richard Pan pulled from consideration a bill he had proposed, which would make COVID-19 vaccines required for all K-12 students.

Also on the relaxation front, Ferrer reported some changes in the Public Health Quarantine Order, which now states that as of April 15, people who have been exposed to COVID-19 are no longer required to quarantine, which aligns with new state policy.  The one way in which LA County does remain a bit more restrictive than state policy, however, is that while people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID no longer have to quarantine for five days, they DO have to continue to wear protective masks around others, especially indoors, for 10 days after their exposure.  And, as with other COVID-19 rules, individual businesses, school districts, employers and others are still allowed to set their own stricter rules for exposures and quarantines if they choose to do so.



Finally, with a convergence of major spring holidays (Passover, Easter, Ramadan) this weekend, as well as the last few days of spring break for many students, Ferrer reminded Angelenos to carefully calculate risk factors for themselves and those they will be coming into contact with over the next week, and take appropriate precautions based on those risk factors, to keep the holiday period as safe as possible for everyone.





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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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