LA County COVID winter surge likely, officials say

CDC places county in its ‘high transmission’ category

Los Angeles County, last year the region with one of the most deadly winter COVID-19 outbreaks, may once again experience another coronavirus surge this winter season, county public health officials said on Thursday, Dec. 9.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Thanksgiving holiday brought about a spike in coronavirus outbreaks, climbing 33% over the last two weeks in LA County.

Moreover, the weekly coronavirus case rate has jumped to 113 new cases per 100,000 residents, which puts LA County back on the CDC’s “high transmission” category for Covid-19. As of Thursday, 666 people were hospitalized with COVID-19: an increase of 93% in just one week.

And with the onset of the highly contagious omicron variant in the county, it’s likely the upward trend will continue, according to LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer, who has been leading the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic for nearly two years.

“We do expect increases to continue on the heels of our Thanksgiving gatherings, but already, based on trends, we are looking at possible beginnings of a winter surge,” Ferrer said in a press conference.

As of Friday, Dec. 10, there are seven reported cases of omicron in the county, a trend which officials say likely stem from people traveling overseas, some of whom may have infected other residents.

“We anticipate seeing increased numbers of individuals infected with the Omicron variant as we are beginning to see cases of local transmission among residents that have not traveled,” Ferrer said. “All indications are that among those fully vaccinated, illness severity if infected with Omicron is mild reminding us that all eligible residents need to urgently get vaccinated or boosted.”

Schools, most of which mandate regular COVID-19 testing, have seen an increase the week after Thanksgiving break, rising to the highest level of transmission since September.

“If, as we suspect, this increase in cases reflects transmission that took place during holiday gatherings, we should consider this an early warning about the upcoming December holiday,” Ferrer said. “That makes now a particularly critical time to vaccinate school-aged children.”

As of Friday, 68% of county residents aged five and older are fully vaccinated and 77% have received at least one dose; Ferrer noted that however “worrisome” the trends are currently, the county is better off than it was last winter before vaccines were readily available.

On vaccinations, Ferrer said that “[i]t particularly making a difference in preventing us from experiencing the devastating crisis we had in our health care system.”

The problem, however, lies in the availability of vaccines, particularly among children who live in lower-income areas and among communities of color.

About 60% of the county’s children aged 5 to 11 live in such areas, and Ferrer confirmed that the county is working on mobile vaccination units to serve those communities.

According to county data, racial and ethnic disparities in vaccinations persist even accounting for the age expansion for vaccine eligibility. Among residents 5 years old and older, 55% of Black residents and 60% of Latino residents have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine compared to 73% and 82% among white and Asian residents, respectively.

“This disproportionality in health outcomes associated with our surges are a stark reminder that the conditions in which people work and live can place them at much higher risk during a pandemic,” Ferrer said. “Our strategies for closing gaps need to include protecting workers and supporting families that have fewer resources.” n

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at k.medenilla@asianjournalinc.com.

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