As we’ve all been hearing lately, new COVID case counts are continuing to soar in LA County, with 23,553 new cases reported on Saturday and 21,200 on Sunday. But another new number – the infection rate (how many people are infected by each infected person) – may be even more startling. As of today, the state of California reports that Los Angeles County has now reached an all-time high infection rate (“R-eff” or “effective reproductive number”) of 2.03, meaning that each infected person is now infecting an average of 2.03 more people. It’s the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that this number has hit 2.0 or higher. (Last year at this time, according to the LA Times, it was about 1.4.)
Unfortunately, while many people are now choosing to avoid large gatherings, indoors or out, we’ve also heard some people saying that because the majority of new cases are now the Omicron variant, which does seem to be less likely to cause serious illness or affect the lungs (especially among those fully vaccinated), they aren’t too worried about getting sick now, and do not plan to modify their plans for work, school, or socializing. But as LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer pointed out in a briefing last week, about 54% of cases at that point were Omicron…but the other 46% were still the much more serious Delta and other variants.
So it’s impossible to know which variant you might come into contact with when you’re out and about, and there are no guarantees that if you get sick, you won’t get as sick as you might have a few months ago. Also, because there are simply so many more cases breaking out at the moment, that means that even if the average severity isn’t as bad, the number of severe cases – simply as a percentage of the overall increase in cases – will also go up quickly. And we are definitely also seeing increases in hospitalization numbers, which have been rising quickly over the last few days, from 904 in LA County a week ago today to 1,628 yesterday. (Note, however, that not all of these people are hospitalized because of COVID; the numbers do include people hospitalized for other reasons who also test positive for COVID-19.)
In some better news, however, as cases rise, so do local and home testing options, and it seems to be easier than ever now to get tested for COVID-19 if you suspect you may have been exposed or if you have symptoms that may indicate you’re infected. For example, as we’ve been reporting for the last couple of weeks, there has been a pop-up PCR testing table on Larchmont Blvd. on many days (see today’s story about its latest location), but rapid result home tests are also increasingly easy to find. While supplies of these tests do seem to be selling out quickly at local retailers, they also seem to be getting re-stocked quickly, and we have seen ample supplies in the last few days at both local drug stores and some grocery stores. So if you need a test, keep looking, and there’s a good chance you’ll find them soon at at least a few of the larger CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Ralphs and other major stores, even if a specific store happens to to be out at the moment.
Also, LA County is now sending PCR test kits directly to residents who think they may have been exposed, or who have current symptoms. To request a test kit, just go to http://www.covid19.lacounty.gov/hometest.
With many businesses and some schools back in operation today after at least a couple of weeks off for winter break (though LAUSD doesn’t resume classes until next Tuesday), testing and other safety protocols are looming even larger this week for many local families. But it does look like there will be some modifications in protocols, at least for schools. As the LA Times reported yesterday:
“Employees at all Los Angeles County public and private schools will have to wear medical grade masks at work and students and staff must wear masks outdoors in crowded spaces under tightened rules issued in anticipation of classes beginning Monday amid a major surge of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Schools will have two weeks from the date of reopening after winter break to comply with the mask rules. The order was issued late Friday to the county’s 80 school districts from public health director Barbara Ferrer “in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.””
According to the Times story, there will also be “stricter protocols for handling athletic team outbreaks and when testing is to take place for students to remain on campus after being exposed to a coronavirus infection.”
So if your school is re-opening this week, be sure to watch for notices from the school, or check the school’s website for updated information. LAUSD will also likely provide more updates this week before its classes resume on Tuesday, January 11.
Finally, if you do need to come out of your relatively isolated, holiday-woven cocoon today, please be careful as you resume more normal levels of activity. Or, as UC San Francisco Department of Medicine Chair Dr. Bob Wachter put it in a Tweet on New Year’s Eve, “Be super careful – it’s raining COVID.”