In the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the winter holidays were marred by a pair of devastating waves that swept through California, skyrocketing the number of cases, sending residents to the hospital in vast numbers And eventually, leaving thousands of people out.
But the third winter seems to have escaped the same fate. The late-fall spike in transmission, which picked up after Thanksgiving, began to spread in mid- to late-December, rather than turning into the runaway train health officials had feared. And unlike in previous years, in the weeks following COVID-19 measurements have continued to improve.
Officials insist the danger is not averted, especially for those most at risk of severe disease.
There is also the possibility of another problematic variant emerging. Officials are closely monitoring XBB.1.5, which has been described as the most infectious variant of the virus so far.
But the fact that California was navigating, for many, its closest to a normal holiday season since 2019, without a record increase in infections or hospitalizations, is cause for optimism, and the tools at our disposal Underlines the power of , experts say.
“I never say we’re safe, because there are still people for whom COVID is going to continue to be a really big concern, and they need to do everything they can to avoid getting infected, said Los Angeles County Public Health Director, Barbara Ferrer. “There’s still a lot of virus in our communities, but we’re certainly in a promising position.”
how did this happen?
It is likely that many residents enjoyed some degree of protection against the coronavirus because they were vaccinated, previously infected, or both. This means that some people were able to avoid becoming infected, while others’ immune systems were better prepared to avoid becoming seriously ill.
Coronavirus drugs – including paxlovid and another oral drug known as molanupiravir – also potentially helped prevent those at highest risk from becoming seriously ill.
Bivalent boosters, specially designed to help protect against the Omicron subtypes that have dominated the previous year, also became available in September. Uptake has been too slow for some officials’ liking, but about 24% of eligible Californians have received the updated dose.
“Vaccines, including the bivalent booster, can help prevent severe disease or even death,” said San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.
Behavioral changes, such as moving gatherings outside, getting tested before events, wearing masks in indoor public places, and doubling efforts to wash hands and other hygienic hygiene measures may also have played a role.
“Although nothing can be said for sure, we currently have evidence that our tools to fight COVID-19, including masks, bivalent boosters and therapy, are working,” Ferrer said on Thursday.
What do the figures show?
California’s case numbers have been falling steadily since the first week of December, as have levels of the coronavirus in sewage.
In Los Angeles County, sewage levels began to drop in early December, but have stabilized in recent weeks to about 70% of last summer’s peak, which are still high levels of concern, by definition of health officials. Is.
“While wastewater concentration levels are not low, at the same time, we are not seeing the post-holiday rebound that was expected until the end of the first week of January,” Ferrer said.
In San Diego County, Wooten said in a statement that “the virus continues to spread in the area. We are still seeing a high percentage of positive COVID-19 tests and detecting high levels of the virus in wastewater.”
Elsewhere, a recent analysis “shows signs of wastewater are decreasing in the Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions, and stabilizing in the Bay Area” and northern California, the Department of Public Health said Thursday. Wrote in an update.
Other measures also lend credence to the idea that coronavirus activity has subsided. Modeling from the California Department of Public Health projects that the spread of COVID-19 is likely declining across the state and trending downward or stable over the past month.
and the hospital?
Although many people infected with the coronavirus experience mild symptoms, or none at all, any sharp spike in transmission risks sending a new wave of patients to hospitals. In 2020-21 and 2021-22, these avalanches were massive and put a huge strain on health systems across the state.
Although California saw a sharp increase in positive coronavirus hospitalizations from late October to mid-December, the census has declined since then.
On Thursday, 3,168 such patients were admitted to the hospital across the state, a decline of 29% over the last two weeks.
That number includes people who are hospitalized with illnesses related to COVID-19 and who incidentally test positive after seeking care for another reason.
If there is no significant resurgence of COVID-19 this winter, it would mark the first time since the pandemic began in 2020 that the fall-winter wave in terms of hospitalizations was less severe than the previous summer.
Continued improvements have led to a parade of California counties rising to low community levels of COVID-19, as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Classification in that category relies on recent estimates of coronavirus case and hospitalization rates, as well as bed occupancy rates, and reflects that the burden on hospitals is relatively light.
Fourteen California counties moved to a low COVID-19 community level on Thursday: Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Madera, Marin, Sonoma, Tehama and Ventura.
With last week’s update, 71% of Californians now live in counties with low community levels of COVID-19, up from 28% the week before.
Deaths are still worrying
As of January 10, California was recording 355 COVID-19 deaths a week. While the number has risen of late, it is still below the summer peak of 396 and well below last winter’s peak, when 1,827 deaths were recorded in the week ending February 27.
More than 98,000 Californians have died from COVID-19, a number greater than the combined population of cities like Santa Monica, Mission Viejo and Redding.
Nationally, COVID-19 is responsible for many more deaths than the flu. The CDC has reported more than 44,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the beginning of October, more than double the estimated 17,000 from the flu.
What about XBB.1.5?
XBB.1.5 is one of the newest alphanumeric members of the extensive Omicron family. It is a descendant of XBB, which is a recombination of the descendants of Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant.
A lot of attention around this particular subvariant has focused on its infectivity, as it may be the most infectious variant of the coronavirus.
According to the CDC, XBB.1.5 is estimated to be responsible for 49.1% of all new cases in the US, making it the most common variant of the coronavirus circulating nationwide.
Although its proportion has increased rapidly, it is much less common in the region that includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands. According to CDC data, an estimated 24.1% of coronavirus cases in the past week were XBB.1.5.
The ultimate effect of XBB.1.5 in terms of hospitalizations remains unclear. But the current figures suggest that the new variant is not rallying.
For example, according to Ferrer, Atlanta is in an area where about 31% of coronavirus samples are estimated to be XBB.1.5. This is twice as much as in other regions. This is twice the area that Chicago contains.
If the number of hospitalizations is increasing due to XBB.1.5, the Atlanta area’s hospitalization rate would be expected to be worse than the Chicago area’s. However, the latter’s hospitalization rate — 11.1 new weekly coronavirus hospitalizations per 100,000 Cook County residents — has been higher than Atlanta’s Fulton County, which has a hospitalization rate of 8.8, according to Ferrer.
However, he added that “there are many underlying variables that affect hospitalization rates in different regions, such as local policies, vaccination rates and even behaviors that change over time, such as staying at home.” spend more time.”
“While we need to continue to observe the effect of increased circulating XBB and XBB.1.5 on disease severity, current information suggests that this omicron strain is not having a major impact on hospitalization rates at this time.” ” Ferrer said.
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