Advertisement

Big jump in L.A. County Omicron cases heightens alarm about the unvaccinated

A masked shopper passes a wall of T-shirts in the Fashion District.
A masked shopper passes a wall of T-shirts in the Fashion District on Monday. Los Angeles County has reported a huge spike in Omicron cases.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Share

After another sharp increase in confirmed Omicron cases in Los Angeles County, officials are again urging residents to get vaccinated and boosted in hopes of blunting a possible winter wave.

The numbers

L.A. County on Monday confirmed 60 new cases of the highly mutated variant. That exceeds the 49 total confirmed Omicron cases that had been reported statewide to the California Department of Public Health as of Wednesday.

“Given the rising case numbers, the high rate of community transmission, and all the evidence that, over time, our immune systems need a boost to be able to attack the COVID virus, no one eligible should delay getting their booster dose,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.

Advertisement

Omicron surge could hit some parts of California much harder than others, with the Bay Area poised to weather the impact the best and the Central Valley the worst.

According to modeling from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Omicron accounted for an estimated 73% of new infections nationwide last week.

Given how readily Omicron spreads — to the point that it’s seemingly outcompeting even the hyper-transmissible Delta variant — officials say it’s vital for residents to make sure they’re as protected as possible.

“Evidence is mounting that for those vaccinated months ago, boosters are necessary to provide the best defense from infection with and transmission of the Omicron variant,” Ferrer said. “Vaccinations also continue to provide excellent protection from the Delta variant.”

Prepare for big spikes in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in areas with low vaccination rates, experts say.

Vaccine push

The L.A. County Department of Public Health on Monday issued a bulletin to healthcare providers to push vaccinations.

“The Omicron variant is a serious threat locally and globally given its increased infectivity, potential immune evasion and resistance to some treatments,” the bulletin said. “Providers are urged to contact their patients and strongly encourage them to get fully vaccinated (if they are ages 5 and older) and to get their booster dose when due (if they are 16 and older) to protect them from getting seriously ill from COVID-19 and to mitigate community spread.”

According to the latest state data, unvaccinated Californians are seven times more likely to get COVID-19, 13 times more likely to require hospitalization and 16 times more likely to die from the disease.

“With the combination of colder weather keeping people indoors, the waning of vaccine and natural immunity, and more mingling among non-household members, public health officials urge Californians to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible to help prevent a possible winter surge in COVID-19 cases,” the California Department of Public Health wrote in a statement Monday.

A surge of coronavirus cases tied to the Omicron variant ahead of Christmas weekend has prompted a crush of demand for over-the-counter antigen tests.

Vaccination levels

According to The Times’ vaccine tracker, 73.9% of Californians have received at least one dose so far. In L.A. County, the number is 75.4%.

Experts say vaccination levels could play a big role in how hard-hit certain regions are by the Omicron wave.

The San Francisco Bay Area has some of the highest vaccination rates in the state, and officials think that could help slow the spread of Omicron. But experts are especially nervous about places with low vaccination rates, including the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley. L.A. and Orange counties, whose vaccination rates are somewhere in between, may see an impact that falls in the middle.

The number of Californians being infected and hospitalized with COVID-19 has crept up over the past two weeks, increasing fears of a winter surge.

One possibility is that the Bay Area will see a relatively small increase in hospitalizations, L.A. County a medium spike, and the Central Valley the highest surge, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco.

Los Angeles County’s vaccination numbers in communities of color now lag significantly behind those of several Bay Area counties — including San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara — data show, despite what L.A. area officials describe as aggressive outreach in Black and Latino neighborhoods.


Advertisement