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Ultra-contagious Omicron subvariants in California: What to know

A woman in a mask stands holding boxes near a poster that says "COVID-19 test kits."
After flying into John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana in late December, Erica Manalese of Phoenix picks up free COVID-19 test kits from the Orange County Health Care Agency.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, July 6. I’m Justin Ray.

*Before we get to the news, I have an announcement: Tomorrow’s newsletter will be my last. I announced this on Twitter a few days ago, but I realize some of you may not have seen it because you made the wise choice of not being on social media. I will explain more in my final newsletter Thursday. Sorry this is so abrupt, but scheduling made it impossible to communicate before now.

A pair of ultra-contagious Omicron subvariants are troubling health officials in California.

“BA.4 and BA.5 are of special concern because of their apparent ability to cause reinfections in people who were already infected with other Omicron subvariants,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. Additionally, “there’s strong evidence they can spread even faster than other subvariants.”

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BA.5 accounted for an estimated 53.6% of new cases nationwide for the weeklong period that ended Saturday. BA.4 accounted for an estimated 16.5% of new cases in that period.

One major question is whether a potential offering of an Omicron-specific booster later this year will help Americans fight off BA.4 and BA.5. However, the problem is that by the time it’s available, it may be outdated considering how quickly the coronavirushas mutated in the last seven months.

As one health professional recently told The Times, one of two recent variants is “the worst version of the virus that we’ve seen.”

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In the meantime, experts still say that getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible is your best defense against COVID-19. But it may make sense to combine vaccination with other COVID-19 prevention methods.

“Vax/boost remains hugely valuable in preventing a severe case that might lead to hospital/death,” according to Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of UC San Francisco’s Department of Medicine. “But its value in preventing a case of COVID, or preventing transmission, is now far less than it once was.”

You can check out the latest on coronavirus cases in California with our COVID-19 tracker.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. STORIES

Air quality dropped considerably after hundreds of Fourth of July firework shows lighted up skies across the Los Angeles region Monday and remained at unhealthy levels into Tuesday morning. Los Angeles Times

A city's skyline at night, with spots of fireworks.
Illegal fireworks explode over downtown Los Angeles on the Fourth of July.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

California’s budget deal that will send ‘inflation relief’ payments to millions in the state appears to exclude some seniors from receiving extra cash assistance. Groups that don’t file tax returns may not be eligible, but they may qualify for other types of increased assistance. KCRA

Vice President Kamala Harris is on pace to set an unusual record, breaking the most tie votes in the U.S. Senate. But many Democrats and progressives don’t see the distinction as much of an honor. Los Angeles Times

A woman at a lectern.
President Kamala Harris delivers remarks at the White House on Feb. 8, 2022.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

As gun crimes increase, so do firearms seizures. The Los Angeles Police Department recovered 8,661 illegal firearms in 2021, according to an annual department report. That’s a 32.5% increase from the previous year, and the highest total in at least 15 years. Also alarming, 22% of the total recovered were ghost guns. Crosstown LA

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

A billion pounds of California almonds stranded at ports amid drought, trade woes. The powerhouse almond industry is in a pickle: About 1.3 billion pounds of unsold almonds are still sitting in piles at processing and packing facilities. The problem comes at a time when inflation and a historic drought are pushing the costs of production and water supplies to an all-time high. Los Angeles Times

Almonds go down a processing line.
Almonds enters a processing machine on June 24, 2022, in Manteca, Calif.
(Paul Kuroda / For The Times)

The author of California’s failed fossil fuel divestment bill describes what went wrong. After narrowly passing the California Senate, the Legislature’s fossil fuel divestment bill met an anticlimactic death in the Assembly. The bill’s author, Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), explains why it failed: “Obviously we’ve just had so much influence from the oil and gas industry.” Capital and Main

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Katelyn Ohashi hasn’t lost the beaming smile that punctuated viral UCLA routines. But the separation from gymnastics has helped Ohashi feel freer from a tearful past. “When I was doing gymnastics, I feel like your whole identity gets wrapped up with what you’re doing,” Ohashi told The Times. Los Angeles Times

A smiling gymnast
Katelyn Ohashi of UCLA competes in the floor exercise during an an NCAA college gymnastics meet in Los Angeles on Jan. 4, 2019.
(Ben Liebenberg / Associated Press)

Sacramento now has more unsheltered homeless people than San Francisco. Within Sacramento city limits, just over 5,000 unsheltered people were counted in a new homelessness report, compared with about 4,400 people in San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Overcast, 79. San Diego: Sunny, 71. San Francisco: Overcast, 67. San Jose: Sunny, 75. Fresno: Sunny, 92. Sacramento: Sunny, 85.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Debra Roman:

I was raised in the Central Valley near the entrance to the Sequoias. My dad was born in Azusa and was a lifelong Dodger fan. My mom’s family lived in the Bay Area and were S.F. Giants fans. Every year we’d vacation in Southern California and up north. We’d visit both Chavez Ravine and the ever windy, chilly Candlestick Park during the summers of the late1960s/early 1970s. My heart is in L.A. and I’ll always bleed blue, but thankful to have seen the greatest players of that era and experienced the great American pastime in one of the most beautiful cities by the Bay.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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