Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in Los Angeles County amid wider distribution of newer Omicron subvariants.
With the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) also on the rise nationwide, officials are urging residents to take steps to protect themselves — including wearing masks and getting the updated COVID-19 booster shot and flu shots.
“Our winter virus season is here early, especially for our children. We see stress in our clinics and hospitals that care for children, especially infants and children under the age of 12,” said Dr. California Health Director and Health Commissioner Tomás Aragón in a statement. “Children are infected by other children and Adults, so everyone has to do their part.”
In addition to getting vaccinated or boosted and wearing masks, Aragón urged Californians to stay home when sick, wash their hands regularly, and cover themselves when they cough or sneeze.
So far, however, few residents have received the updated COVID-19 vaccine – also known as a bivalent booster – which became available in September. Only 12% of LA County residents ages 5 and older who are eligible for the updated refresher have received it. Nationwide bivalent booster coverage is 13.3%.
The refresher campaign is also lagging among seniors, a group at particular risk of severe health effects from COVID-19. Only about 25% of LA County residents age 65 and older have received the shot.
“This low number is worrying, especially given the possibility of a winter surge fueled by new strains of the virus that are highly contagious,” said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health. “People over the age of 65 remain at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19. And for many older people it has been months since their last booster shot.”
Getting an updated booster shot is important because immunity to coronavirus infection — whether from previous vaccinations and booster shots, or a previous illness — weakens over time.
“When a person contracts COVID-19, there is always a risk of hospitalization and death,” Ferrer said. “While three-quarters of those who died are actually elderly, that means 25% of those who died aren’t.”
In LA County, only 15% of eligible adults ages 50-64 have received the updated booster shot, and only 10% of those in their 30s and 40s. Only 6% of eligible youngest adults have received an updated booster shot, as have 5% of adolescents and 4% of children aged 5 to 11 years.
“Even if a person does contract Omicron and it feels like a mild infection, there is always a risk of it being passed on to another person for whom it will not be a mild infection, especially if you are asymptomatic or not even that do have symptoms,” Ferrer said.
Lower uptake of the updated booster shot among seniors was noted in central and south LA, southeast Los Angeles County, the Eastside, parts of the northern San Fernando Valley, and the Antelope Valley.
Areas with higher rates include the Westside, South Bay, Hollywood Hills, southern San Fernando Valley, and Santa Clarita Valley.
The San Gabriel Valley was divided, with some areas such as Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino, La Crescenta, Altadena, La Cañada Flintridge, Sierra Madre, Claremont, and Walnut reporting high intakes, while cities such as Azusa, Baldwin Park, El Monte, Irwindale and Rosemead had lower adherence
“Even in areas where the uptake of bivalent boosters is higher, it’s still not high enough. There are no areas where the 60 percent figure is being reached that we would like to see for preparation,” Ferrer said.
Officials fear the low uptake of the updated booster will lead to unnecessary infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months. Ferrer urged people to get their COVID booster and flu shot as soon as possible, as it’s now less than two weeks before Thanksgiving – and it’s two weeks before shots offer full protection.
“Maximize your protection and get vaccinated today if you plan to have as much protection as possible from the vaccines by Thanksgiving,” Ferrer said. Getting vaccinated as soon as possible, she added, “will help you increase protection.”
There are a few reasons this final phase of the COVID-19 vaccine campaign has been slow, officials and experts say. Many people may not know about the additional booster, or realize that unlike previous offerings, it has been redesigned with a new formula that is effective against both the original version of the coronavirus and some of the newer Omicron strains, including BA.5. protects .
Others may think they are still well protected by their previous vaccine or booster shot. And for some, they might just not be ready to roll up their sleeves for a fourth, fifth, or even sixth time.
“We couldn’t say at first that this is a vaccine that you have to take over and over again,” Ferrer said. “So I feel like there’s a lot of confusion and we haven’t done a good job of clearing that confusion.”
From a public health perspective, she said, “We’re back at all efforts.”
Officials have long warned of the possibility that the coronavirus could return this fall and winter. And while the overall picture of the pandemic remains relatively rosy, there are some signs that transmission is starting to increase.
Nationwide, coronavirus cases in the week ended Tuesday rose 10% from the previous week to 59 cases per week per 100,000 people. A rate of 50 to 99 is considered significant; 100 or more is considered high.
The number of coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized nationwide rose 8% from the previous week to 1,871 on Thursday.
Los Angeles County recorded an average of 1,302 coronavirus cases per day in the week ended Thursday, a 24% increase from the previous week. On a per capita basis, LA County recorded 90 cases per week per 100,000 people.
“We’ve been gaining weight really slowly but steadily since November 1,” Ferrer said. Should the case rate rise to 100 or more, LA County will again strongly recommend wearing masks in indoor public spaces.
As of Thursday, there were 502 coronavirus-positive patients in LA County hospitals, up 11% from the previous week.
Across the country, estimates suggest that the proportion of admitted coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has remained relatively stable at around 45% since April. The other patients are being treated for issues not related to COVID-19.
“It is important to note that while half of these patients may not be hospitalized because they have COVID-19, they still impact the hospital’s workload and burden due to special infection control precautions and placement that every patient with a COVID-19 infection requires patients differently than other patients,” the California Department of Health and Human Services wrote in a statement to The Times.
Officials are also closely watching the increasing dominance of new Omicron subvariants. Together, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 account for an estimated 44% of coronavirus cases nationwide, according to the latest figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BA.5, long the dominant version of the virus, now accounts for just under 30%.
“Given the rapid rise in BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, many are predicting that these strains — which are highly transmissible — are likely to lead to an increase in cases this fall and winter,” Ferrer said.
But “while part of the reason they outperform other circulating COVID strains is that they elude some of our previous protections,” Ferrer noted that BQ.1, BQ.1.1 — plus another subvariant, BF .7 – these are all descendants of BA.5.
“This very likely indicates that the new bivalent booster is well suited to reducing serious illness and death,” she said.
So far, BQ.1.1 has not resulted in an increase in hospital admissions. dr Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, wrote on Friday on twitter that New York state — which has the highest percentage of coronavirus cases as a result of BQ.1.1 — “still shows no signs of increased COVID hospitalizations.”
However, the pandemic continues to take a deadly toll. At least 1,167 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in California since early October, including about 400 in Los Angeles County.
Of particular concern has been an increasing number of coronavirus outbreaks in LA County nursing homes. Last week it was 21, a level high enough for officials to call “worrying,” Ferrer said. Only about 50% of residents in qualified care facilities have received the updated booster shot, and efforts are being made to enable more of them to be vaccinated.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-12/coronavirus-cases-hospitalizations-rising-in-l-a-county L.A. County COVID cases, hospitalizations rising