In her weekly address on Thursday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported that COVID-19 cases are still rising steadily in LA County…but while the daily new case average is up 20% in just the last week, and 200% over the last month, we have not yet crossed any thresholds that will trigger new restrictions or ring any alarm bells for our health care system.
However, within that cautiously optimistic news, there were some interesting specifics in yesterday’s report.
The first is that while cases are certainly rising steadily (though not spiking anywhere near as quickly as they did during our winter surge), hospitalizations and deaths have remained fairly stable, which Ferrer attributed to a combination of factors including widespread testing, vaccination rates, and the wider availability of therapeutic treatments.
Also, Ferrer noted that case rates are currently highest among teens and young adults, who tend to be out and about more than other age groups. But they also tend to be less prone to serious illness, hospitalization and death, which also may be part of the reason those numbers have remained fairly steady so far. Meanwhile, infections among older age groups, who are more vulnerable to serious illness, hospitalization and death, have remained lower than other groups, thanks to things like vaccinations, testing and treatments.
Ferrer also reported that, so far, our CDC-defined “community rate” remains low, meaning our health care system is not currently being stressed by the rise in cases, which is also good news. That said, however, Ferrer also reported that we are approaching the “medium” community level, which could indicate that health systems are starting to show at least some signs of stress as cases rise. According to Ferrer, though, no new restrictions (such as a return to required masking indoors in all public places) would be instituted unless we reach the “high” community level, as shown below.
Ferrer said current trends indicate that we will probably hit the “medium” level soon, but that will not trigger any new restrictions. The CDC does make certain community recommendations at the medium level, Ferrer said, but they’re things LA County is already (and has long been) recommending, such as masking, vaccinations, and frequent testing.
And if we do eventually reach the “high” community rate, as per CDC definitions, Ferrer said, indoor masking rules would be reinstated in all public places (including schools). Unless and until then, however, no other restrictions would be required.
Moving on, Ferrer reported that currently, as has been the case for several weeks, 100% of LA County COVID-19 cases are identified as some variant of the Omicron strain of the COVID-19 virus, while the BA.2 variant and its various subvariants now account for 97% of cases in the county. And of those, BA.2.12.1 and BA 2.3/2.3.x are the most common. Worldwide, though, Ferrer said health officials are also keeping their eyes on BA.4 and BA.5 variants, which have appeared mostly in South Africa so far. (Only two cases in LA County have been identified as BA.4.)
Meanwhile, as would be expected with our rising case rates, Ferrer reported that LA County wastewater monitoring also shows significant increases of COVID-19 concentrations, and is now just short of two times the rolling average of two weeks ago, which would be a level of concern for county health officials.
But while the County rates are up pretty sharply, the wastewater concentrations for Los Angeles City Sanitation are still a bit lower – approaching the twice-the-two-week-average level, but not yet as close as LA County levels.
Ferrer also reported that this week there 140 new worksite clusters of COVID-19 reported in LA County, mostly in the retail sector (37% of all workplace cases), manufacturing, and the finance/insurance industry.
And in LA County schools this week, there were nine new outbreaks, which was actually less than the previous week but still more than there were a month ago.
Ferrer said three of this week’s school clusters were associated with school events, and cautioned that as we move into the last month of school before summer break, there will be more large school-based events, and more opportunities to increase school-based transmission. To help prevent this, she reminded people that masks are still strongly recommended indoors at schools, and at school events. She also reported that the county has recently distributed more than 300,000 test kits to schools, to help make it easier for people to test before attending large school-based events.
In fact, in light of our currently high and still rising, case numbers, Ferrer said our focus throughout the county should be on preventing as much transmission as possible, to protect both individuals and our health care system. “People who are not infected cannot end up in the hospital,” she said, so we shouldn’t take lightly our collective responsibility.
Measures everyone can take to reduce transmission include getting vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t already done so…
Getting tested before indoor gatherings (Ferrer said tests are abundant and often free – insurance will pay for up to eight tests per person each month – so “don’t feel that it’s a burden to ask someone to test before coming to an event”)…
And making a plan to look into therapeutic drugs if you do get infected, whether through your own health care provider, or one of the county’s Test-to-Treat locations at selected CVS and Walgreen’s stores, which offer both same-day testing and treatment.
Finally, when asked whether or not she expects to see a significant summer surge for the third year in a row this year, Ferrer said that although the numbers are currently going up, she hopes we can avoid those much higher peaks this year.
About 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 is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
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