Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Public Health Update: COVID-19 and Monkeypox Still Relatively Quiet; Flu Season on the Horizon

LA County Public Health Director at her weekly address yesterday.


Referring at one point to COVID-19 being in a “relatively quiet” period this week, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer yesterday provided her usual weekly update on case numbers and other pandemic indicators, but also used the opportunity to give a preview of this year’s flu season.  And Chief Medical Officer Rita Singhal provided an update on monkeypox stats and the newest groups to become eligible for monkeypox vaccines.




For the fifth week in a row, Ferrer reported, LA County remains in the “low” community tier for COVID-19, as defined by the CDC…and while transmission rates are still “substantial” and the virus still presents significant dangers to those who are most vulnerable, new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued their downward trend this week, while daily deaths remained stable.



Also remaining pretty consistent this week, Ferrer said, is the distribution of local COVID-19 variants.  100% of local cases are still caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19, with about 93% of all cases due to the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, and about 3% caused by BA4.6, which is pretty much the same as last week. And COVID-19 clusters (groups of more than three cases) at schools are also in their fourth week of decline since peaking in late August.



So with COVID-19 news at a welcome minimum, Ferrer used a large part of her address this week to provide a preview of the upcoming flu season, which is now upon us.   But although flu is a highly seasonal illness, Ferrer said, unlike COVID-19, which can spike anytime, the same kinds of common-sense protections that have helped to calm the COVID-19 pandemic – such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, avoiding crowded indoor spaces, and getting vaccinated – are also effective against flu transmission, and have helped keep the seasonal flu at lower levels than usual for the last for years.



Ferrer also explained that the United States can often get a good look at what’s in store for its own upcoming flu season by looking at data from Australia, where this year’s flu season is now starting to wind down.  And this year, Ferrer reported, Australia did have a “relatively severe” flu season.  Infections started relatively early in the season in Australia this year, she said, and illnesses may have been more severe, overall, than in other recent seasons.  So the same could likely be on the horizon for the U.S.



Ferrer also explained why flu tends to be such a seasonal disease.  Much of it, she said is because, in the winter months, there tends to be a big drop in absolute humidity during the winter.  And when the humidity drops, Ferrer said, virus particles dehydrate too, becoming smaller, and lighter, making it easier for them to travel further, and to remain viable longer than in other seasons.  And then, of course, people also spend more time indoors during cooler months, which also makes it easier for the virus to travel from person to person, especially during crowded holiday gatherings.



As with COVID, Ferrer said those most vulnerable to severe illness from a flu infection are those who are older, unvaccinated, or are immunocompromised or have other risk factors, including those whose work brings them into contact with the general public, especially indoors and in poorly ventilated environments.

And those factors are common to millions of Angelenos, Ferrer said, which means that being careful to limit transmission and keep people as healthy as possible, is still very important.



Finally, Ferrer said that one of the best ways to avoid severe illness from flu and COVID this fall and winter is to get vaccinated and/or boosted for both flu and COVID-19 if you haven’t already done so.  As has been previously reported, the new bivalent COVID-19 boosters are now available for everyone age 12 and older whose last booster shot was at least two months ago.  (And, no, it doesn’t matter if you had COVID recently – there are no disadvantages to getting a booster shot as soon as you recover.)  And bivalent boosters for children under 12 should be available sometime in October, Ferrer reported.




After the COVID-19 and flu updates, LA County Chief Medical Officer Rita Singhal provided a status report on monkeypox, new cases of which are also currently continuing to trend downward for the fourth week in a row.



Along with the case report, Singhal said LA County has now administered almost 94,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine, though only 51% of those currently eligible for the second dose of the two-shot series have so far received their second dose.



Singhal also reported that data now shows that – as with COVID-19 – the vaccines are highly effective, and that those who have received even just one dose of the vaccine are 14 times less likely to be infected than those who have not received a shot.  Singhal cautioned, however, that because we don’t yet know how long single-dose protections will last, people are definitely still advised to complete the two-dose series.



Finally, Singhal reported, two new groups of people are now eligible to receive the monkeypox vaccine – sexual partners of anyone in another risk group (including gay or bisexual men, men who have sex with men or transgender persons, people who engage in commercial or transactional sex, persons living with HIV, or people who have had skin-to-skin contact with someone who has or is suspected of having monkeypox, even if their infection has not yet been confirmed)…and people who anticipate they will fall into any of those groups.  In all cases, Singhal said, people are allowed to self-attest their eligibility, and no proof is needed.  Also, she announced that vaccines can now be given in places less obvious than the arm (including the thigh or back) to help with confidentiality.



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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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