In a sign of how the novel coronavirus wave continues to spread through California, two-thirds of the state’s counties are now at the COVID-19 high community level, in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of United States recommends universal masking in indoor public spaces. .
It comes as health officials warn for weeks to come as two new, ultra-contagious subvariants of Omicron – BA.4 and BA.5 – spread. Experts believe the subvariants, which are not only particularly contagious but also able to re-infect those who survived a previous Omicron infection, are a major factor in the continued persistence of coronavirus transmission across California.
So far, Los Angeles County health officials have not imposed new masking rules. But they warned it may be necessary, possibly later in July, if new coronavirus-positive hospitalizations continue to rise. Although experts are concerned, there is still uncertainty about the severity of a summer surge.
“With the continued increase in cases, and now that you’re seeing the corresponding increase in hospitalizations…we’re really concerned,” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.
The California Department of Public Health has strongly recommended universal mask wearing in indoor public spaces since the state’s universal mask order expired in February.
On Thursday, the most populous counties in California that entered the high community level of COVID-19 for the first time since early spring are Kern, San Francisco, Ventura and San Mateo.
Ventura County on Thursday became the first Southern California county to enter the COVID-19 community high since the first wave of Omicron disappeared.
Community levels of COVID-19 take into account rates of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Of California’s 58 counties, 38 are at the high COVID-19 community level. Some 16 million Californians live in these counties, representing 42% of the state’s population.
They include counties in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, the San Francisco Bay Area, and much of rural Northern California.
Throughout late March and all of April and May, not a single county in California was at the high community level of COVID-19. But that changed in early June.
Los Angeles County has so far remained at the medium COVID-19 community level, where it has been since mid-May.
Health officials have said they will reimpose a universal mask mandate in indoor public spaces for people age 2 and older if LA County falls into the COVID-19 community high level for two consecutive weeks. . LA County would retain a universal mask mandate until it returns to the community COVID-19 average level, or lower, for two consecutive weeks.
California’s coronavirus case rates have hit a stubborn plateau over the past month, reversing what appeared to be tantalizing signs in mid-June that cases were starting to drop.
The data — along with signs that the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are dominating cases nationwide — help explain why it seems like so many people across California are reporting new infections. Officials say BA.4 and BA.5 appear to have the ability to re-infect people who contracted earlier Omicron strains.
On Friday, Los Angeles County was averaging about 5,300 daily coronavirus cases, or 367 cases per week per 100,000 people, a 20% increase from the previous week. This is the highest case rate in LA County since early February.
A rate of 100 or more cases per week per 100,000 population is considered high. Most counties in California have weekly case rates above 200 — but case rates combined with the number of hospitalizations determine whether a county is designated as having a high community level of COVID-19 under the CDC.
The San Francisco Bay Area still has the highest rate in California with 351 cases per week per 100,000 population. The Bay Area’s weekly case rate fluctuated between around 280 and 420 in June.
On Friday, Southern California’s weekly case rate was 299; Greater Sacramento, 266; the San Joaquin Valley, 255; and rural Northern California, 200, according to the Times California coronavirus tracker.
California has seen a 12% increase in coronavirus cases from mid-June, averaging more than 16,900 a day over the past week, according to data compiled by The Times. Per capita, this represents 303 cases per week per 100,000 inhabitants.
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