If it seems that half of the people you know have recently been infected with COVID-19, you are not alone.
Southern California is in the midst of a relentless wave of coronavirus cases that have been building up since spring, and with two new wildly infectious forms bursting onto the scene in recent weeks, the wave is showing no sign of ending.
But if you think that the low percentage of people who are hospitalized or dying because of COVID-19 these days means you don’t have to wear masks and take precautions like vaccination and promotion, public health experts are different. Will beg for
Here are six things to know about these new types and how you can protect yourself and your community.
What are these new variants?
They’re actually a subtype of Omicron, the strain that was first detected around Thanksgiving in South Africa and caused the massive increase last winter in the United States.
Since then, Omicron has continued to mutate rapidly.
“New variants come along and they outnumber older variants,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at UC Irvine. The same happens with influenza, he said, but it’s happening much faster with COVID-19, “a wave of new forms followed by one.”
Each new branch that shoots up the family tree from the original Omicron trunk gets a new series of letters and numbers. The two branches, known as BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, went into effect this spring, and are now subspecies known as BA.4, and specifically BA.5. Acquisitions are taking place, which make up 70% of US cases in the week ending July 2. , and about 40-50% of recent cases in Southern California counties, officials said.
How dangerous are BA.4 and BA.5?
George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco, said a better word would be “disruptive,” not dangerous.
“They don’t necessarily lead to more serious illness – the school is still out on that,” he said. The difference between them and the previous variants and subvariants is that they are much more transmissible. “They also have picked up some mutations that make them more difficult for the immune system to recognize.”
So rather than decrease, the current wave — which has accounted for nearly 1 million confirmed cases in California since April, out of a total of 9.5 million since the pandemic began — is sustained by the high infectivity of these new subvariants and their ability to evade immunity. He is going. Even people who have been fully vaccinated and extended, or who have recently had infections, are having success cases and reinfections.
This pushed Southern California case rates to levels not seen since February, when the original omicron wave was weakening.
On the other hand, hospitalizations – well above their lows a few months ago – have not risen back to levels seen in previous surges.
The current increased cases are not in themselves worrying, said Matthew Zahn, deputy county health officer for the Orange County Health Care Agency, given that hospitalizations “are much lower than in previous surges.”
“But it is worth noting that the current surge started in May, shows no sign of slowing down in July, and new versions are emerging,” he said. “As a whole, our daily exposure to[coronavirus]in the community will probably be substantial for some time.”
So is vaccination still important?
The answer from public health experts is yes.
“Even with the emergence of new forms, getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself and your family,” said San Bernardino County Health Officer Michael A.
Because of the way the virus has evolved, vaccines no longer do a very good job of preventing infection. But they are still very effective in preventing serious disease.
“If you’ve been vaccinated and double boosted, let’s say, it will go a long way to keeping you out of the ICU, but it won’t, in the upper case, prevent reinfection,” Noymer said. ,No, I can’t give you an airtight guarantee that you won’t end up in the ICU, but all things being equal, if you get vaccinated and boosted, you’re better off. ,
According to the latest data from the California Department of Public Health, unvaccinated people are 5.4 times more likely to get COVID-19, 7.5 times more likely to be hospitalized and die from it than those who are not vaccinated. 14.5 times higher. Extended.
What about wearing a mask?
Experts were also unanimous in their support for indoor masking, especially when cases were on the rise, and especially in people who are at high risk or have close contact with people at high risk.
Those asymptomatic cases are one of the reasons people can spread the disease even if they don’t know they are contagious.
Robert Kim-Farley, a UCLA specialist in epidemiology and infectious diseases, said, “The fact that many individuals can be infected, but without symptoms, means that crowded indoor spaces become an even more likely , where transmission can occur.”
Experts said the norm since the start of the pandemic – you’re at risk if you’re within 6 feet of someone for 15 minutes or more – is no longer really helpful. If you’re outside where air can circulate, you’re probably at less risk, but inside, the virus can travel great distances and doesn’t take 15 minutes to invade.
“If you’re in a grocery store with 50 other people, the chances are pretty high that someone in that grocery store will be infected, maybe a couple,” said John Swartzberg, an infectious disease specialist at UC Berkeley. “If they’re not wearing a mask, they don’t need to be 6 feet away from you to spread the infection.”
In other words, he said: “Don’t go to the grocery store without a mask.”
If the disease is less severe now, what’s the big deal?
Prolonged COVID is still a big concern.
Swartzberg said he is in a high-risk group because of his age, and because of the pandemic, he was concerned about getting COVID-19 and being hospitalized or dying.
“I don’t really worry about it anymore,” he said. She is up-to-date about her vaccinations and has medicines that can help prevent serious illness if she is infected.
“On the other hand, I worry about prolonging COVID, which will ruin the rest of my life, or has potential,” Swartzberg said.
He notes that the literature suggests anywhere from 5% to 30% of people infected — about 15% being a good middle estimate — develop long-term symptoms, including fatigue, fever, respiratory and heart issues, neurological problems, and digestive symptoms. We do.
Swartzberg said, “I don’t want to get COVID for a long time, so if it’s between wearing a mask when going to the grocery store and being prudent in other settings, or getting COVID for a long period of time, I think it’s going to be someone who doesn’t want to go to the grocery store.” No brains.”
Additionally, while fewer people are getting severe COVID-19 than ever before, the vast majority of the population is still at high risk. Los Angeles County public health director Barbara Ferrer said this includes 34% of LA County residents who are 50 and older, 28% of adults who are obese, 25% who have high blood pressure, 11% who have diabetes, 11. % who use tobacco and 7% of adults and children who have asthma.
What will happen next?
When asked this question, Swartzberg quipped. Everyone wants to know, but no one can say for sure. However, he said he hopes that as we continue to build up immunity to vaccinations and infections, we will be able to handle the virus better, and that science is “moving at warp speed,” adding that better vaccinations are needed. And treatments are on the horizon.
In the immediate future, if the number of hospitalizations increases significantly, Southern California could soon join the CDC’s high-risk level with much of the Bay Area and Central California.
Ferrer said on Thursday, July 7 that if L.A. County reaches that level and stays there for two weeks, the county will reinstate a universal indoor mask mandate, which she said could happen by the end of the month. .
No one can predict which new versions will emerge, but most experts expect another surge this winter. But there is reason to think that future waves will not be as destructive as past waves.
“Given the history of viral infections, people like to point out that many viruses begin with a major burst of illness, then gradually subside, so they are, like the common cold, part of the normal cycle. background,” said Michael Buchmeyer, a virologist and immunologist who has just retired from UC Irvine. ,Maybe we’re just seeing it now. We may be at the point that it hasn’t become that dangerous.”