In a continued sign of improvements in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Los Angeles County officially entered the low COVID-19 community level on Thursday, indicating the pandemic is not putting undue strain on the local healthcare system.
Recent figures illustrate a “very different January than expected,” a senior health official said this week, with steady improvements in data continuing instead of a feared post-holiday spike.
Although some numbers may be impacted by delays in data over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the county has significantly improved its pandemic metrics. And with the winter holidays behind us, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a much-discussed dual wave of COVID, fueled by gatherings and travel, has failed to materialize.
“We’re not seeing the post-holiday spike that was expected through the end of the first week of January,” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.
“It might be tempting to interpret this as saying that COVID is no longer a problem,” she said. “However, the more reasonable explanation is that the new tools and people’s behavior have changed the spread of COVID and that even small precautions make a difference as well.”
There are a number of possible reasons. Some people who were infected may have had mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, so they were not tested. Others may have used a home kit to confirm their infection, the results of which are not always reported.
It is also likely that many residents will remain well protected, either because they have recently been vaccinated or have recovered from coronavirus infection.
Changes in behavior — such as moving gatherings outside, testing before events, wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, and doubling down on hand washing and other health hygiene measures — may also have played a role.
LA County health officials have urged residents returning to work or school after the holidays to dress up for at least 10 days to help stem possible spread. Ferrer said she believes enhanced masking, even temporary, can play a crucial role in containing transmission.
However it happened, it’s evident that this ongoing downturn isn’t just the by-product of data fuzziness.
Even the number of cases has gone down. For the week ended Thursday, LA County reported an average of 1,095 coronavirus cases per day. Per capita, that’s 76 cases per week per 100,000 people – a rate considered “significant” but no longer “high.” It’s the first time LA County’s case rate has fallen from the “high” rate since mid-November.
The case rate is down 41% from the previous week, although it’s likely some of that dramatic drop is due to delayed coverage of MLK weekend.
“We have a very different January than expected,” Ferrer said. “And I’m grateful for that.”
Transitioning to the low community level, as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “is significant and reflects lower risk,” she continued, “but it doesn’t mean no risk.” The low level of COVID-19 -Community level indicates that the burden on hospitals from the pandemic is relatively light.
“My greatest fear is that within that optimism, the most vulnerable people, who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, will be left to their own devices,” she said.
LA County was one of 14 California counties to transition to the low COVID-19 community level on Thursday. In Southern California, Ventura County made the same transition, and elsewhere were Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Sonoma, Marin, Butte, Madera, Kings, Humboldt, Tehama, and Glenn counties.
Elsewhere in Southern California, San Diego, Orange, and Imperial counties remained at intermediate levels, while Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties remained at low COVID-19 community levels.
With this week’s update, 71% of Californians now live in counties with a low COVID-19 community level. In the previous week, 28% of Californians did so.
The number of coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized nationwide has fallen sharply since the start of the year. As of Wednesday, 3,372 such patients were hospitalized across the country, the lowest since late November and a 26% drop from two weeks ago. The numbers include both those admitted specifically for COVID-19 and those who happened to test positive after seeking treatment for another reason.
The peak number of coronavirus-positive hospital admissions this winter was 4,648 on Jan. 3. That’s slightly down from the summer peak of 4,843 set on July 26th.
Unless there is a significant resurgence of COVID-19 later this winter, it will be the first time since the pandemic began that an autumn-winter surge in hospitalizations has been less severe than the previous summer.
California Department of Health modeling also estimates that the spread of COVID-19 is likely declining statewide, showing a downward trend or a stable trend over the past month.
LA County reflects the statewide trends. The 918 coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized on Wednesday are down 29% from two weeks ago.
The peak of the county’s fall and winter hospitalizations came Dec. 8, when 1,308 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized. That was also slightly below the summer high of 1,329.
Nevertheless, the numbers are not insignificant.
“While the impact of COVID on the healthcare system remains manageable and stable, our hospital admissions are still about double what they were in October and early November,” Ferrer said.
Deaths also remain a concern. As of Jan. 10, California was reporting 355 COVID-19 deaths per week. Although this has been increasing recently, it remains below the summer high of 396 and well below last winter’s peak when 1,827 deaths were recorded for the week ended February 27. Last winter, the first season after the arrival of the Omicron variant, marked California’s second-deadliest wave.
LA County reported 140 COVID-19 deaths for the week ended Thursday, compared to a seasonal high of 164 for the seven-day period ended Jan. 13. It’s unclear if this drop is due to a delay in coverage of MLK weekend.
Nationally, COVID-19 is responsible for far more deaths than the flu. The CDC has reported more than 39,000 COVID-19 deaths since early October, more than double the estimated 16,000 from flu.
Despite the recent drop in injections, officials are still urging residents to get the updated COVID-19 booster.
The recording of these bivalent shots was relatively slow. Just under 16% of eligible Americans have received theirs, federal data shows. A larger but still slight 23% of Californians have done the same.
According to state data compiled by The Times, in mid-September — when the updated boosters became available — California experienced a temporary spike in vaccine dosing that lasted about two months. But the number of new cans going into the guns has since declined.
This could be because some vaccination centers were closed over the holidays. But it could also indicate the general indifference of the public.
An online poll of 1,200 previously vaccinated Americans — the results of which were released by the CDC Thursday — found that the most common reasons people didn’t get the updated boost were because they didn’t know the shots were available or that they were entitled to it snaps them; or they believed they were still well protected from infection or serious illness. Others expressed uncertainty about the booster’s effectiveness or concerns about potential side effects.
“A bivalent booster shot can protect yourself and reduce your chances of serious illness from COVID-19,” Ferrer said. “This is especially important for those in our community who are elderly or have pre-existing conditions.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-01-19/l-a-county-drops-to-low-covid-community-level L.A. County drops to low COVID community level