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Public Health Update: Still in a “Hopeful New Place”…and How to Tell if Your COVID Test Kit Has Expired


This week’s public health update from LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer brought good news in three forms:  COVID-19 case and hospitalizations continue at relatively low and stable levels…data shows the latest bivalent vaccines are very effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths…and there’s an easy way to know whether or not home COVID tests past their expiration dates are still good (and most of them are!).


The Numbers


“Overall, we remain in a hopeful place,” Ferrer said in the opening to her briefing on Thursday.  “And there continues to be evidence that our tools to fight COVID-19, including the bivalent booster, therapeutics, and testing are working well.”

As shown in the graph above, LA County had an average of 1,050 new COVID-19 cases reported each day over the last week, and about 106 hospitalizations and 18 deaths, all of which are consistent with the numbers from the last few weeks, with no major changes.  Also, as shown below, wastewater testing, which doesn’t rely on reporting of test results, shows similar stability over the last month, at levels about equal to last July as the summer peak subsided.  That said, however, Ferrer did note that our wastewater levels are still at the “medium” level of concern, so the pandemic is definitely not over.  “There’s no indication that we’re completely out of the woods with COVID,” she said.



The numbers reported above do keep us in the CDC’s “low” community level for the fifth straight week, however, said Ferrer,  and “I remain hopeful that we’re in a new phase of the pandemic,” since so many people now have at least some level of immunity from either vaccinations or previous infections.

As for what’s causing our local infections these days, Ferrer reported that, as expected, the XBB.1.5 variant continues its prominence, with 34% of locally-sequenced cases.  But XBB.1.5 is actually much more prevalent in other parts of the U.S. than it is here, Ferrer said.  In fact, it now accounts for as much as 95% of cases in the northeast United States, so officials expect its percentages to rise here, too…though it’s moving more slowly so far in this part of the country.

Among other local variants, BQ.1.1 is also at about 34% of local cases this week, and BQ.1 is at 14%.

But none of this differs much from the past few weeks, which Ferrer said is also good news.  “We’re not seeing the kind of drastic shifts in proportions that would be cause for alarm,” she said.



Vaccine Effectiveness


Ferrer reported the additional good news this week that there continues to be strong evidence of the effectiveness of the newest bivalent vaccines, with those in the 80+ age group three times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 if they’ve received the vaccine, those 65-19 twelve times less likely to be hospitalized if vaccinated if they’ve had the latest booster, those 50-64 7.2 times less likely to be hospitalized, and those 30-49 about eight times less likely to be hospitalized if fully vaccinated.



And death rates are equally telling.  Those 80+ are 5.6 times less likely to die if fully vaccinated, those 65-79 are 15.8 times less likely to die, people 50-64 are 14 times less likely to die, and those 30-49 are about 6.4 times less likely to die from COVID-19 if they’ve received the latest updated boosters.



COVID-19 Test Expirations


Finally, in addition to vaccines, Ferrer reminded LA County residents this week of the value of COVID testing, especially before and after attending large gatherings and/or traveling.  Also, because many of the home test kits that were widely distributed last year are now nearing or past their stamped expiration dates, Ferrer also noted that just being beyond the expiration doesn’t mean the test is expired.  In fact, she said, many of them are still good, so you shouldn’t throw them out.

Instead, she said, there’s an easy way to tell if the test is still good – use it as you normally would, and if the “control” line shows up as expected, then the test is good and you can trust its results.  If the control line doesn’t show up, then the test has indeed expired, and you should toss it and try again with another test kit.  So, yes, it’s that simple…and no, you shouldn’t automatically throw out your “expired” test kits.



Finally, Ferrer acknowledged that many people are no longer paying as much attention to COVID as they used to…but that doesn’t mean we can afford to forget about it altogether.

“I know that for many,” she said, “COVID is no longer top of mind…and this is a good thing.”  But, she said, “I also know that for others who are vulnerable or are living with long COVID, there remains a need for accurate information, access to lifesaving resources, and community support for their special needs.  At Public Health, we’re going to do our best to provide resources for residents and workers with the most up to date information we have, and to use that information to guide our County’s response to COVID-19.”

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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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