“We’ve likely passed the peak of Omicron transmission in LA County.”
— LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer
- Omicron surge has likely peaked
- New cases, case rates, and test positivity are down
- Hospitalizations are stabilizing
- New cases are still “extremely high”
- Caution, masks, and vaccinations still very important
- Risks can be managed for Super Bowl and other big events
With daily reports of new cases falling from more than 40,000 per day to the mid-20,000s per day over the last week, LA County health officials now seem fairly confident in stating that we’ve passed the peak of the current Omicron COVID-19 surge. LA Couny Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported the good news in her weekly address on Thursday, but also cautioned that more than 20,000 new cases per day is still an “extremely high” rate of transmission, and that one in every eight people tested for COVID-19 this week had a positive test result. Also, Ferrer reported, while hospitalizations have stabilized a bit, daily deaths from COVID-19, which tend to lag a few weeks behind the surge in new cases, are still trending up.
Ferrer also reported yesterday that the current numbers also illustrate the high rates of COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness, with much higher case rates reported in those who are unvacinated (dotted line below), than in those who are fully vaccinated (middle line below), or – especially – those who are both fully vaccinated and have received an additional booster shot (bottom line below).
And this holds true for all age groups, as shown in this chart…
Meanwhile, the differences in hospitalization rates between those who are vaccinated and unvaccinated is even greater…
And the difference in death rates is greatest of all.
But while 69% of LA County’s 10 million residents are now fully vaccinated, as shown below, Ferrer stressed that to really help stop the spread of COVID-19, there are still many ways we can improve our vaccination rates. For example, only 31% of LA county residents have received a booster shot (69% still need them), and only 21% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated, a “significant vulnerability,” Ferrer said, that leaves that age group particularly vulnerable to new infections.
And even though the current surge is beginning to subside, Ferrer stressed, vaccinations – and increasing our vaccination rates – are still extremely important, not just for slowing the spread of the Omicron variant, but because it’s “very possible that there can be another variant of concern in the future.” (In fact, a new “sub-variant” of Omicron – currently known as BA.2 – has already been found in four people in LA County, though it does not yet seem very different from the current BA.1 variant.)
So “vaccines do remain our best tool” for fighting COVID, Ferrer said, also mentioning results of a recent USC study that estimates we would have had 85% (or approximately 604,000) fewer COVID-19 cases in the current surge if everyone had been vaccinated, and 95% (or 680,000) fewer cases if everyone eligible had been both vaccinated and boosted.
Schools, Workplaces, and Events
This week, Ferrer reported, testing has increased at LAUSD schools, and the positivity rate has gone down by 33% from the week before, with only 15 new outbreaks at the District’s more than 1,000 schools.
And to make sure that transmission stays low at schools, workplaces, and special events, Ferrer urged people to remain diligent about wearing masks, testing frequently, staying home when sick, and getting vaccinated/boosted if they haven’t already done so.
Ferrer said that despite falling case rates, we’re “still so far from ending, really, definitively, the spread of COVID-19,” or achieving the low transmission rates that would allow masking rules to be eased, that people should still be wearing high quality masks, making sure they fit well, and are discarded when necessary. “If we want to continue to see decline, we have to follow some common sense practices,” she said.
Good masking practices, and other basic preventive measures, will be especially important, Ferrer said, as we approach upcoming events such as the Lunar New Year, this weekend’s football game at So-Fi Stadium, and – of course, the biggest upcoming event of all – the Super Bowl game and associated events on the weekend of February 12-13. Ferrer said, however, that LA County health officials have been working very closely with SoFi stadium, and that 1.2 million people have attended 21 games at SoFi this year, without any of them becoming super spreader events. So the upcoming events should be as safe as possible, she said, with masking rules in effect at all major venues, high-quality masks available for distribution to all attendees, and even access to testing and vaccinations at several venues.
In general, Ferrer said, those who would like to participate in upcoming special events should carefully caluclate their potential risks, and the kinds of things they can do to mitigate the risks in each situation. For example, she said, things like moving TV and/or the food table outdoors if you’re having a Super Bowl party can make a big difference. So can making sure that all attendees take a COVID rapid test an hour or so before coming. Still, however, Ferrer said it’s also still a good idea to keep gatherings as small as possible, and to recognize that everyone will be doing their own risk and mitigation assessments (“it’s a risk gradient at this point”). And, she said, some people may still decide, based on their own risk factors, that it’s just not the time for any sort of gatherings at the moment. “We rely heavily on people doing the right thing,” Ferrer said.
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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