Advertisement
Share

California coronavirus cases remain elevated as wave continues

A healthcare worker administers a Covid test.
A healthcare worker administers a COVID-19 test. Los Angeles County remains at the “medium” COVID-19 community level.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The number of newly reported coronavirus cases remains elevated across California as health officials continue to wrestle with the pandemic’s latest wave.

Statewide, health officials reported an average of about 15,900 new coronavirus infections a day over the last week — roughly in line with the rate recorded over the previous week, according to a Times analysis of state data released Monday.

However, it’s too soon to say whether a plateau or a downturn is imminent. Modeling from the California Department of Public Health suggests that the spread of COVID-19 is likely still increasing in Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley and Greater Sacramento, but might be stable in the San Francisco Bay Area and the northern swath of the state.

Recent official case tallies are also almost assuredly an undercount, as many people are screening themselves using at-home coronavirus tests, the results of which are not reliably reported to health officials.

L.A. County is averaging about 5,100 coronavirus cases a day for the weekly period that ended Friday; that’s up 20% from the prior week.

Advertisement

It’s also likely that, with schools letting out, fewer cases will be found through regular campus screenings.

“I do anticipate that with many schools closed for the summer, there’ll be significantly less routine testing and that will probably contribute to decreases in the daily case numbers and increases in test positivity over the next few weeks,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Even so, at the current high rate of transmission, California could surpass 10 million cumulative reported and probable coronavirus cases by the end of next week. So far, 9.84 million such cases have been tallied throughout the pandemic.

The current crush of cases is also continuing to send increasing numbers of coronavirus-positive patients to California hospitals, though the takeaway message from that metric remains mixed.

On the one hand, 2,762 such individuals were hospitalized statewide as of Monday — up roughly 26% from two weeks ago.

On the other hand, the patient count remains well shy of the harrowing peaks seen earlier in the pandemic. In fact, the hospital census has yet to reach even the level seen during the gap between last summer’s Delta wave and the first Omicron surge that struck over the fall and winter.

Officials are also quick to note that many of those included in the hospital tally are not necessarily being treated for COVID-19. But too many coronavirus-positive patients in hospitals, whether they’re sick specifically because of COVID-19 illness or tested positive incidentally, strain resources because of the additional safety procedures necessary to keep the virus from spreading.

In L.A. County, for instance, about 40% of coronavirus-positive patients are hospitalized for COVID-19 — with the remainder incidentally testing positive, according to Ferrer.

“Our hospitals are well equipped to manage patients who are positive with COVID,” she added. “They’ve been doing that since the beginning of this pandemic and they have very sophisticated systems for protecting the workers, the other patients and the patient who has COVID.”

Pandemic funds could combat COVID-19 and make U.S. schools more breathable for students living with allergies, asthma, and chronic wildfire smoke.

Though conditions now are nowhere near as distressing as earlier in the pandemic, officials and experts say some protective measures are warranted during periods of elevated coronavirus spread.

“Taking appropriate precautions for yourself and for others during times of high transmission remains sensible, particularly given the uncertainty around both long COVID and the impact of new variants and sublineages,” Ferrer said.

Such steps include getting vaccinated and boosted, when eligible, which both helps ward off infection and provides strong protection against severe illness, experts say.

Masks have also been a particular point of emphasis during the latest uptick, even though officials have, for the most part, stopped short of reinstituting requirements that they be worn in many places.

The California Department of Public Health, for instance, strongly recommends, but does not require, everyone mask up in indoor public settings, including businesses, on public transit and in transportation hubs.

However, in some counties and schools — including Alameda County — authorities have reintroduced public indoor mask mandates in response to increasing infections and hospitalizations.

Ferrer has said L.A. County would do likewise should it fall within the CDC’s “high” COVID-19 community level for two consecutive weeks. That category, the worst on the agency’s three-tier scale, indicates not only that there’s significant community transmission but that hospital systems may grow strained due to the demands posed by coronavirus-positive patients.

The CDC recommends universal indoor public masking for counties in the high COVID-19 community level.

L.A. County remains at the “medium” COVID-19 community level. But should current case and hospital trends continue, it’s possible the county could reach the high level by the end of the month.

Ferrer noted that L.A. County already requires masks in certain settings — including while aboard public transit — and that indoor masking remains strongly recommended in other public settings.

“Although there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether the county is going to reach the CDC-designated high community level, I do want to encourage everyone to use their masks now whenever you’re indoors in public spaces around others,” Ferrer said.

A federal health review says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appears effective in children under 5, the only group not currently eligible for inoculation.

As of Thursday, more than 67% of the U.S. population lived in an area with either a medium or high COVID-19 community level, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

“As new areas shift to medium and high community levels, it is important to know your community level” and what precautions may be needed, she wrote on Twitter on Monday.

For counties at the medium level, federal health authorities recommend residents consider masking based on their personal risk.

“We don’t have to wait until things get much worse before people can start putting those masks back on when they’re indoors,” Ferrer said.


Advertisement