California is approaching another summer amid growing concerns about COVID-19 as outbreaks mount and officials try to determine when this new wave will come.
While the number of cases is rising, experts note they are doing so at a more modest pace than the first Omicron spike, which started rising in December. The per capita hospitalization rate of COVID-19 in California is also lower than some East Coast states.
But with Memorial Day, graduations, proms and other seasonal events on the horizon, officials are concerned about the uptrend worsening.
“We’re seeing more activity, so it’s time to break off your mask and run your tests and be a little more careful than maybe a month ago,” said Dr. Sara Cody, director of public health and health officer for Santa Clara County. “Unfortunately, even if you got Omicron during the Omicron peak, you can still get COVID.”
California reported about 8,000 daily cases of coronavirus in the past week, an 18% increase from the total of 6,800 cases per day the previous week. The statewide test positivity rate has risen to 4%; a week ago it was 3%.
Coronavirus-positive hospital admissions are also starting to rise, but the number of patients requiring intensive care has remained relatively stable, hovering around record lows before the pandemic.
Health officials across the state agree that it’s wise to take precautions when coronavirus transmission is high — including wearing masks in indoor public areas, being up to date on vaccinations and boosters, and if may collect outside or increase ventilation at indoor meetings.
The San Francisco Bay Area has the highest number of coronavirus cases in California — nearly double that of Southern California — and coronavirus levels in sewage for much of Silicon Valley have more than doubled in the past two weeks.
“They’ve been rising steadily for about a month and they’re above what we saw at Delta’s peak,” Cody, the dominant strain last summer, said of viral levels in wastewater.
Levels of coronavirus in wastewater are also rising in Yolo County, home of UC Davis, said Dr. Alexander T. Yu, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert with the California Department of Public Health, who briefed the California Medical Assn. on Tuesday. The upward trend, which started in March and was most prominent in the Bay Area, is now increasing in most regions, Yu said.
However, there is some suggestion that coronavirus levels in wastewater in Orange County and San Francisco are beginning to decline, Yu said.
“At both locations you can see that the increase in concentration seems to be slowing down and hopefully starting to stabilize,” he said.
The Bay Area now has a rate of 226 weekly coronavirus cases for every 100,000 residents, up 14% from the previous week. The state as a whole reported 144 cases per week for every 100,000 residents, and the rate in Southern California was 134. A rate of 100 or higher is considered a high transmission rate, the worst level, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
“We’re also seeing a pretty significant increase in outbreak reports from schools, workplaces and other congregated facilities,” Cody said. “A lot of them are related to social gatherings.”
The number of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County is also rising.
According to data posted Wednesday, LA County had an average of 2,628 cases of coronavirus per day in the past week, up from 2,168 per day in the previous week, a 21% increase. LA County’s weekly case count was 182 for every 100,000 residents.
The number of coronavirus-positive people in hospitals on any given day in LA County has fluctuated between about 210 and 270 over the past month.
“To date, increases in cases have not translated into increases in serious illness, with hospitalizations and deaths remaining low and declining,” the LA County Department of Public Health said in a statement Monday. “The lower number of hospitalizations and deaths in large part reflects the protection offered by the vaccines against the variants.”
However, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer warned residents to continue to take precautions amid a high rate of transmission.
“This month there will be many occasions for gatherings, including graduations, proms and the upcoming Memorial Day holidays,” Ferrer said in a statement. “To prevent these occasions from contributing to the increasing spread of Omicron variants, we encourage attendees to take sensible precautions that will protect you and those around you, including staying outside as much as possible and wearing a mask when inside. are.”
Santa Clara County is also beginning to see a rise in the number of hospitalizations positive for the coronavirus. On April 26, there were 80; two weeks later there were 121.
And health experts are beginning to warn that Omicron survivors could become infected again. Experts initially thought that the survival of the first Omicron variant, BA.1, probably protected against subvariant BA.2. But that may not be the case for the last ascendant Omicron subvariant, BA.2.12.1.
Cody urged people to take precautions. “When COVID [conditions] when you start going wild, you have to add other layers: you have to mask indoors, test when you need to, try to take things outside when you can,” she said.
California State epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan, reiterated that Omicron can still be dangerous. While much has been said about the fact that Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness, its extraordinary contagiousness means that many more people can be infected at the same time and that more people died during the fall and winter wave of Omicron than the earlier Delta wave.
The deaths of more than 14,100 Californians from COVID-19 have been reported since January 1, when Omicron was dominant, while the COVID-19 deaths of nearly 12,800 Californians were reported in the final six months of 2021, around the time Delta was dominant, according to state data.
“While people are talking about Omicron being milder … the deaths in general during the peak were definitely higher during Omicron than during Delta, for example with such a high number of cases,” Pan said in an interview with the California Medical Assn.
Two out of three Californians live in counties where coronavirus transmission is considered high, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, as well as every coastal county to the north, along with the entire San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento County.
But an analysis conducted by the State Department of Public Health of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations per capita also shows that California is outperforming counterparts in the Northeast like New York and Massachusetts.
“Fortunately, California has remained relatively low compared to the trends in these other states,” Pan said. “We’ve been watching this very, very closely, but it’s somewhat reassuring that our hospitalizations haven’t increased at the same rate as some of the other states.”
While the East Coast has at times been a precursor to what is to come in California, there have been times when COVID trends in other states have not emerged here. In the spring of 2021, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, for example, for a sense of “impending doom” about the pandemic as the number of cases rose; but those were eventually confined to parts of the Midwest, and the rest of the nation continued its recovery until the summer Delta Wave hit.
Also note that the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, which are responsible for a new wave in South Africa, have not grabbed California in the same way.
“We’ve also seen a handful of them in California and are watching closely. But so far it hasn’t taken off in the same way it did in South Africa,” Pan said. South Africa may be hit harder by BA.4 and BA.5 because the country didn’t see as much of a BA.2-fueled wave, she said.
California has also benefited from the widespread availability of anti-COVID drugs. Newly infected people can get prescriptions from health care providers and ‘Test to Treat’ sites at select pharmacies.
“We now have more and more antivirals, so Paxlovid, we have plenty of stock, and then so does molnupiravir,” Pan said, referring to the two drugs that can be taken orally. “There is no shortage anymore.”
Oral anti-COVID medications should be taken within five days of the first COVID-19 symptoms. Of the two, Paxlovid is considered more effective.