The daily average number of new COVID-19 cases in LA County continued to rise this week, topping 4,300 for the first time in several months. And that’s almost certainly an undercount, said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in her weekly address yesterday, since many people are now taking home tests and not reporting their results, and/or not testing at all if they don’t have symptoms or are just mildly sick.
Despite the increases, however, the numbers are still firmly within the CDC’s “Medium” community level, where we’ve been for the last few weeks. So that means nothing changes for now, except for renewed reminders for people to take appropriate precautions such as wearing masks and getting vaccinated and/or boosted, to help stem the rising tide. If that doesn’t happen, though, and the upward trajectory continues at current rates, Ferrer said LA County could potentially hit the “High” community tier by the end of the month, which would trigger renewed indoor masking restrictions.
But taking a slightly different look at the numbers, Ferrer also noted that there was actually a slight leveling off of new cases this week, while hospitalizations continued to rise. It’s hard to tell yet, though, she said, whether this signals the beginning of a welcome trend, or simply a delay in reporting of some new cases due to the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Right now, Ferrer said, our hospital admission rate of 5.2 people per 100,000 is still well under the threshold of 10 per 100,000 that would move us into the “High” community level as defined by the CDC, and which would therefore trigger new indoor masking rules.
As noted above, though, Ferrer predicted we could reach that “High” community level in just a few weeks – perhaps by the end of the month – as shown by the trend line below. She stressed, however, that “there is no certainty with this date,” and that progress could easily be faster or slower than the projection.
For those interested in which version of COVID-19 is dominating this week, Ferrer reported that 100% of local cases sequenced are still some form of the Omicron variant, with 40.2% now the BA2.12.1 subvariant (which accounts for 59% of the cases across the U.S.). The percentage of BA2.3 cases shrunk a bit this week, to just 6% of the total, while the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, while still pretty rare, rose a bit.
Also, as the school year ends for some districts and approaches the end in others, Ferrer reported 11 new school outbreaks this week, which is still within the “medium” level of concern…
…though new cases in schools, at all grade levels, are also still rising.
Finally in the weekly numbers, Ferrer also pointed out that one particular early alert signal – the case rate in our lowest income areas, which are often the earliest and hardest hit by new waves of COVID-19, are already at a “high” level of concern, signaling that other areas could soon follow, as they have during past waves.
The overall rising case numbers prompted Ferrer to renew officials’ strong recommendations for people to take “sensible precautions” – including wearing masks – especially at end-of-year indoor school events such as proms, graduations, concerts and more. Ferrer also cited two recent studies that show the effectiveness of masks in reducing COVID-19 transmission – one of which showed both that the odds of testing positive were 56% lower for people who wear masks in indoor public spaces, and that the odds of testing positive were 83% lower for people who wear N95 or KN95 masks vs. those who don’t wear masks at all. The second study showed that school districts in Arkansas that had mask rules had a 23% lower COVID-19 case rate than those that did not require masks.
Also, just to be clear, Ferrer reiterated that in LA County, masks are still required by law in certain settings, such as healthcare facilities, public transit and transit hubs, shelters, and correctional facilities…and they’re also still strongly recommended in indoor public spaces such as schools, worksites and more.
Ferrer also reminded people that employers must allow employees to wear masks if they choose to do so, and that they must provide masks for people who work indoors or in shared transportation.
She also lauded several local businesses and other settings that have chosen to require masks, including several nail salons, UCLA, the Hollywood Pantages Theater, and the LA Music Center.
Finally, Ferrer said the best way for people to protect themselves and others is to carefully assess the various risk factors of an activity, and then modify behavior based on those risks.
And last but not least, in addition to the local COVID-19 news this week, there was also some other notable but more general public health news, some of which relates to COVID-19, and some of which doesn’t:
- Alameda County is the first in California to reinstate an indoor mask mandate.
- The White House announced that COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5 may be available by the end of this month.
- COVID-19 boosters are now recommended and available for children ages 5-11, and can be scheduled through individual health care providers, stores and pharmacies that provide COVID-19 vaccinations, and LA County vaccination sites.
- LA County reported its first likely case of monkeypox, which can cause serious illness, but is much less transmissible than COVID-19 (it requires direct contact with an infected person and their bodily fluids, or prolonged contact with their respiratory droplets, clothing, bedding or other such items). The local case is in someone who recently traveled domestically, and who had close contact with another confirmed case of the disease.
- LAUSD and the LA County Department of Public Health issued warnings about three students in Santa Monica who had to be hospitalized after taking mail-order ecstasy pills laced with fentanyl. (Young people who are just beginning to experiment with drugs are considered particularly at risk for such experiences.)
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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