With coronavirus cases on the rise, California finds itself in a familiar if frustrating position with the threat of another wave as summer approaches.
Coronavirus cases are rising, in many areas at a rapid rate. Officials have yet to express alarm about the state of California’s hospitals or impose far-reaching new rules to mitigate the spread of the virus.
But officials say health care systems may come under strain again unless the rate of transmission is restricted, underscoring how vital it is for residents and businesses to make use of the protective tools at their disposal. .
“Residents, workers and businesses should not avoid reinstating or adhering to safety practices known to reduce transmission,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “This includes masks indoors, testing when people are sick, exposed, or gathered, and staying up to date on vaccinations.”
Los Angeles County on Friday extended its order requiring the wearing of masks on public transportation, including train and bus stations; in interior areas of airports and seaports; and in shared ride vehicles. This week, vaccine clinics also began making COVID-19 booster shots available for children ages 5 to 11, following Thursday’s recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. that these young people should get one.
The Berkeley public school system announced a new order Friday to reinstate an indoor mask-wearing mandate for students and staff for the remainder of the school year, beginning Monday, including indoor graduations. Berkeley schools are seeing a surge in coronavirus case clusters, and the surge has proven so disturbing that “we’ve only been able to cover about 50% of our teacher absences with substitute teachers,” the school district said in a statement. release.
“This means that in schools across the district, administrators are, once again, working in our classrooms as teachers, while teachers are giving up their planning periods to fill in for colleagues who are ill,” said the school system.
How are the conditions?
Fourteen of California’s 58 counties are in the “medium” community level of COVID-19 as described by the CDC.
Counties in this category, the middle on the agency’s three-tier scale, are experiencing elevated levels of coronavirus transmission. In those counties, residents should “consider taking preventive measures based on their own risk, such as avoiding crowds, wearing a mask, increasing their testing, especially before gathering with others indoors,” according to the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
Los Angeles moved into the middle category on Thursday and is the only county in Southern California at that level. Also in the middle category are eight of the nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area (the only exception being Napa County) and the northern coastal counties of the Bay Area, as well as Santa Cruz County and Yolo County.
Reaching this category “is concerning as it could indicate that the increases we are seeing in our COVID cases may soon put a strain on our health care resources,” Ferrer said Thursday.
So far, no county in California is in the worst community level, or “high,” denoting an elevated level of coronavirus transmission and hospitals experiencing significant impacts from COVID-19.
“We need to do everything we can to stay out of the ‘drogue,’” Ferrer said. “No one here wants to see us move into any categorization that could cause stress on our health care system or cause more people to get sick or die.”
What does that mean?
Being in the middle category does not trigger any new generalized rules or health guidelines. However, Los Angeles County officials have said that reaching high would prompt the return of a universal local public mandate for indoor masks, which has not been in place since early March.
Other California counties have not outlined specific plans to reinstate a local mask order if cases or hospitalizations continue to worsen.
Masks are still required in health care settings, nursing homes, jails and homeless shelters, and other settings in some areas of the state. The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system has enacted a mask mandate. Oakland requires patrons attending indoor events with 2,500 or more people to wear a mask.
On Tuesday, multiple speakers at a health commission meeting urged San Francisco officials to reinstate the universal mask mandate.
But the city’s health officer, Dr. Susan Philip, indicated she was unwilling to pursue that at this time, given the wide availability of high-quality masks, vaccines and boosters, and COVID medications.
San Francisco has been in the mid-community tier for COVID-19 for three weeks, sent to this tier due to its high case rate. But coronavirus-positive hospitalizations remain relatively low, Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s director of public health, told health commissioners this week.
“Our hospital capacity … remains relatively strong,” Colfax said.
Even though a face covering requirement hasn’t been on the books for months, California Department of Public Health officials have consistently recommended residents wear indoor coverings in public.
Ferrer also urged residents to wear high-quality masks, such as KF94, KN95, and N95 respirators, while indoors, get vaccinated and boosted, get tested when they feel sick or potentially exposed to the coronavirus, and prioritize gathering in well-protected areas. ventilated or outdoors. .
Despite the recent increases, Ferrer reiterated that he feels people can enjoy gatherings and activities, though he suggested taking prudent precautions.
“While we are discouraged that the pandemic is not over, I am reassured that with the tools available, we can continue to enjoy our time with each other and our participation in the activities we love,” he said.
How does California compare to other parts of the country?
The situation in other parts of the United States is more worrying.
Nationwide, 297 counties have a high community level of COVID-19, including those that are home to New York City; Long Island, New York; Detroit, Honolulu; and Milwaukee, Wis. Other areas in the high category include large swaths of upstate New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and New England, including Boston; northern and eastern Pennsylvania; and all of Puerto Rico.
In these areas, which are home to 18% of the nation’s population, federal health officials recommend that people wear masks indoors while out in public.
While they haven’t mandated a new mask mandate, New York City officials have warned that “pressure on the health care system is mounting” and urged seniors and others at high risk of severe COVID-19 to avoid gatherings and wear a mask in crowded outdoor places. settings.
Officials have said the dramatic rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in New York City is being driven by BA.2.12.1, one of a family of Omicron subvariants spawned in the wake of last winter’s spike.
By comparison, 483 US counties, home to 28% of US residents, are in the middle tier, while the vast majority, 2,444 counties, home to 54% of US residents ., remain at the low level.
“As we are currently seeing a steady rise in cases in parts of the country, we encourage everyone to use the menu of tools we have today to prevent further infection and serious illness, including wearing a mask, getting tested, accessing treatments. early if infected and get vaccinated or boosted, especially if you’re over 50 and your last dose was more than five months ago,” Walensky said during a briefing this week.
What are the latest numbers?
Statewide, officials reported an average of about 12,900 new coronavirus cases per day over the past week, a 63% increase from the previous week’s average, according to data compiled by The Times.
In Los Angeles County, officials have reported an average of about 3,200 cases per day over the past week. That’s a level not seen since mid-February, when the region was still on the downslope of last winter’s Omicron surge.
And officials say these numbers likely don’t capture a large number of infections, as many people use home tests, the results of which are not reliably reported to health agencies.
Test positivity remains low, but has been increasing. Over the past week, that metric has increased from 2.6% to 3.7% in Los Angeles County.
The seven-day statewide test positivity rate was 6%, according to California Department of Public Health data available Friday. That’s an increase from 3.1% at the beginning of the month.
What about hospitalizations?
As of Thursday, the number of positive coronavirus patients hospitalized statewide was 1,708. While still significantly lower than at many other points during the pandemic, the count rose 28% in the last week alone.
The rate of week-over-week increases in hospitalizations is accelerating. The previous week-over-week increase statewide was 19%.
In Los Angeles County, the most recent positive coronavirus patient count was 401, a 35% increase from a week ago. The previous week-over-week increase was 20%.
However, many of those patients are not necessarily hospitalized for COVID-19. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said most of those hospitalized with a positive coronavirus test within the county’s public hospital system were there for some other reason. , like a heart attack or stroke, and it happened that you accidentally tested positive on admission.
However, an increase in hospitalizations, Ferrer said, is “an important reminder that, for many, becoming infected with COVID-19 poses a serious risk.”
And the deaths?
COVID-19 deaths are stable and down at an average of about 38 a day statewide, according to data compiled by The Times.
Deaths are a lagging indicator of the spread of the coronavirus and often don’t rise until weeks after a region begins to see a spike in infections. However, officials have expressed some optimism that the widespread administration of vaccines and the availability of therapeutics could mitigate a possible increase in deaths.
“Our hope is that as more people take advantage of the protections that vaccines and boosters continue to offer, daily deaths will stay low,” Ferrer said.