Los Angeles County is in the midst of another full-blown coronavirus surge, with cases up 75% in the last week.
The spike – which partially captures, but likely does not fully reflect, exposures during the Thanksgiving holiday – is prompting increasingly urgent calls for residents to keep up to date on their vaccines and take other preventive measures to reduce virus transmission and severe contain diseases.
Also on the rise is the number of coronavirus-positive patients being treated in hospitals, raising concerns of a renewed strain on the region’s health system and raising the specter of a mandate for indoor public masks if trends continue within weeks.
“While there is still uncertainty about what impact COVID-19 will have this winter, there is increasing evidence that we are entering another surge in COVID-19,” said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
Though many officials expect a third winter pandemic wave could be mitigated due to vaccines and better drug treatments, it’s still a potent threat as the region also grapples with an early onslaught of flu and RSV.
“There’s a common mindset that the pandemic is over, that COVID-19 is no longer a concern,” Ferrer said. “However, with the increase in hospital admissions and the lack of certainty about the winter trajectory of COVID-19, it is important to continue sensible mitigation strategies that we know work.”
LA County reported an average of 3,721 coronavirus cases per day in the seven days through Monday, up from 2,128 the previous week. The latest fall rate is twice what it was just before Thanksgiving and three times what it was in the first week of November.
The per capita rate – 258 cases per week per 100,000 people – has not been this high since early August, when the summer surge began to ease. A rate of 100 or more is considered high.
Of the state’s 25 most populous counties, LA has the highest case rate, followed by San Diego, Solano, Merced, San Bernardino, Fresno, Santa Clara and San Francisco, according to The Times’ coronavirus tracker.
Official case numbers are likely artificially low due to the widespread use of home testing, the results of which are often not reported to public health officials.
In the week ended Saturday, LA County recorded 1,211 new hospitalizations of coronavirus-positive patients. That’s 12.1 new admissions per 100,000 people, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An admissions rate of 10 or more is one of two criteria county officials have established for the potential introduction of a new indoor public mask ordinance. The second is the percentage of occupied hospital beds occupied by coronavirus-positive patients.
As of Saturday, 6.4% of LA County hospital beds were occupied by such patients, up from 4.8% the previous week. Should that share reach 10%, it would set off a countdown — likely a couple of weeks — to a new mask order, which would be LA County’s first since early March.
Ferrer last week estimated that this could happen in late December if trends continue. That means a mask mandate would likely come into effect in early January at the earliest.
LA County was close to enacting new masking rules during the summer’s omicron surge, but narrowly avoided doing so as cases and hospitalizations tumbled just before the new ordinance went into effect.
Southern California is currently bearing the brunt of the increasing spread of the coronavirus, with a case rate 35% higher than in the state’s second-hardest-hit region, the San Francisco Bay Area.
Officials in Santa Clara County, Northern California’s most populous county, said they’ve seen a sharp rise in coronavirus levels over the past month.
“The current surge in COVID-19 in the county should serve as a stark reminder to all who are eligible to receive the Omicron bivalent booster as soon as possible, especially ahead of the holiday season,” said Dr. Sara Cody, director of public health for the county. said in a statement.
The number of COVID-19 deaths has also increased. LA County recorded 76 COVID-19 deaths in the week ended Monday, up from 53 deaths the previous week. Death rates are highest among those who have either not been vaccinated or are not up to date on their booster shots, officials say.
A rebound in coronavirus activity after Thanksgiving is a repeat of the pattern seen over the past two autumns. Exactly one year ago, on December 5, 2021, LA County saw a 91% weekly increase in coronavirus cases, a prelude to the first omicron surge, which has been one of the deadliest of the pandemic.
But optimism remains that a surge this fall and winter won’t be as dire as last year given the plethora of tools: numerous rapid tests, an updated booster shot that goes well with circulating strains of coronavirus, and awareness that masking remains a helpful tool to limit transmission.
Still, officials remain deeply concerned about the disappointing reception of the updated booster shot that became available in early September. Just 35% of vaccinated California seniors age 65 and older got the updated booster shot, as did just 21% of those ages 50 to 64, state data shows.
The number of coronavirus-positive hospitalizations has increased significantly in California for all age groups. As of Friday, the coronavirus-positive hospitalization rate for seniors 70 and older surpassed that of the summer Omicron surge — the only age group to reach that peak.
While a certain percentage of people hospitalized with coronavirus infection aren’t receiving specific treatment for COVID-19 disease, that proportion may change depending on whether you’re on a surge.
For example, during last winter’s Omicron peak, 60% of LA County’s hospitalized patients with coronavirus infection were being treated for COVID-19, meaning the other 40% randomly tested positive after being checked out had been treated for another reason.
Since February, between 37% and 45% of LA County’s coronavirus-positive hospital admissions have been attributed to COVID-19, Ferrer said. In the week ended November 7, it was 43%.
“We’re currently at the high end of that range, and we know that percentage typically increases during swings,” she said. “It is possible that as COVID cases increase this winter, we will see an increasing proportion of COVID hospitalizations attributed to COVID-related diseases.”
Hospitals are already busy dealing with an influx of patients sick with influenza and RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. The confluence of this viral trio — a so-called “triple disease” — could put a heavy strain on healthcare systems, even if COVID-19 totals aren’t as high as the past two winters.
“This year’s flu season got off to a rocky start,” said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, CEO of American Medical Assn. “The flu is here. It started early. And with COVID and RSV also circulating, it’s a perfect storm for an awful holiday season.”
That’s why it’s so important to get vaccinated not only against COVID-19 but also against the flu, she told reporters Monday.
“I know everyone is tired of getting shots. We all have booster fatigue. But understand, you could get really, really sick this year and ruin your holiday celebrations if you don’t get vaccinated,” Fryhofer said.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-12-06/l-a-county-coronavirus-cases-in-full-surge-up-75-in-one-week L.A. County coronavirus cases spike 75%; deaths rise