Bigger spread, less disease: The latest California coronavirus scare changes the script

LOS ANGELES — Over the past two years, COVID-19 has followed a predictable, if painful, pattern: When coronavirus transmission has resumed, California is flooded with new cases and critically ill patients in hospitals. of which an alarming number of people die.

But in a world steeped in vaccines and treatments, and health care providers armed with the knowledge they have during a pandemic, the latest wave hasn’t stuck to that script.

In-spite of this wide spread of coronavirus – The latest peak is the third highest of the pandemic – the impact on hospitals has been relatively modest. Even with the spurt in transmission, COVID-19 deaths have remained fairly low and stable.

And it has happened even as officials largely shied away from new restrictions and mandates.

In some ways, this is what should have happened: As health experts get better at identifying the coronavirus, vaccinating against it, and treating symptoms, the new surge in cases should not lead to a huge jump in serious diseases.

But today’s environment is not necessarily the basis of tomorrow. The coronavirus could mutate rapidly, potentially upping the public health landscape and meriting a different response.

“The one thing on my mind that can be predictable about COVID is that it is unpredictable,” said UCLA epidemiologist Dr. Robert Kim-Farley.

While it is too early to say for sure, there are signs that the current wave is starting to ease. In the week-long period ending Thursday, California averaged just over 13,400 new cases per day — well below the latest spike’s high of nearly 16,700 daily cases, according to statistics Compiled by the Los Angeles Times.

By comparison, last summer’s delta increase topped an average of about 14,400 new cases per day.

and more than 8,300 coronavirus positive patients were hospitalized At the height of the delta over a few days across the state – nearly triple that during the most recent wave.

The difference in the impact of each boom on intensive care units has been even greater. During Delta, there were over 2,000 coronavirus positive patients in ICUs across the state. However, in the latest wave, the daily census has reached around 300 so far.

This difference in hospitalization explains how the pandemic has changed.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we immediately noted that the game-changers were easy access to vaccines, tests and therapeutics — and now we have all those things,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

“It does not say that the pandemic is over. This we have not accomplished,” she insisted. “What we have achieved is that we have reduced the risk, but we have not eliminated the risk.”

And although the number of hospitalizations has been low, overall, during the latest wave, Ferrer said each infection still carries its own dangers – not only severe illness, but also the potential for protracted COVID-19. Taking personal action to protect yourself, she said, has the added benefit of helping to protect those around you, including people at high risk of severe symptoms or working in jobs that require them to regularly Usually bring in contact with many people.

“To me, it makes it clear that layering in some protection is still the way to go, while still enjoying whatever you want to do,” she said.

California’s most restrictive efforts to rein in the coronavirus came to an end nearly a year ago, when the state celebrated its economic reopening, lifting nearly all restrictions that have long provided the backbone of its pandemic response. was ending.

Roughly a month later, with the then-novel Delta version, parts of the state reinstated the mask mandate in hopes of blunting transmission.

At the end of the year, another new enemy will arise: Omicron Edition. This highly communicable strain brought unprecedented viral spread, increasing the number of cases and hospitalizations and prompting officials to revisit a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces.

The fury with which those two surges struck feared some, and others advocated a return to strict orders that restricted people’s movements and shut down wide swaths of the economy. However, both waves have come and gone without California officials recourse to that option.

And during this latest wave – fueled by an alphanumeric soup of Omicron subvariants including BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 – such aggressive action seems to be off the table.

“I think, deep down in my heart, until we see a new version that escapes our current vaccine protection, we don’t need to go back to the more drastic tools we had to use early on in the pandemic. When we didn’t have vaccines, when we didn’t have access to testing, when we didn’t have therapeutics,” Ferrer said in an interview.

During both the delta and the initial omicron surge, California “carefully assessed the unique characteristics of each type to determine how best to handle changes in the behavior of the virus, and used the lessons of the past two years for mitigation.” and adaptation measures through effective and timely strategies,” according to the state public health department.

“These lessons and experiences informed our approach to managing each surge and diversity. In addition, more tools were available for disease control during each subsequent surge, including the Delta and Omicron surges,” the department said in a report to the Times. Was written in response to the inquiry. “Therefore, instead of using the same mitigation strategies that were used before, CDPH focused on vaccines, masks, tests, quarantine, improved ventilation and new therapeutics.”

The state has also abandoned its previous practice of setting specific limits to tighten or loosen restrictions in favor of, it says, “smarter” plan – which focuses on preparedness and applying the lessons learned to better armor California against future booms or new forms.

“Each boom and each edition bring unique characteristics relative to the specific circumstances of our neighborhoods and communities,” the Department of Public Health said in its statement to the Times.

Chief among them, the department added, is being immunized and promoted when eligible and appropriately wearing high-quality face masks.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends public indoor masking in counties that have high COVID-19 community levels, one of the worst in the world. Agency’s three-tier scale, This category not only indicates significant community transmission, but also suggests that hospital systems may be strained by coronavirus-positive patients.

“We’re certainly not at a level on these numbers where you’ll say, ‘Okay, this is now, bid, spatial, and we go about business as usual,'” Kim-Farley said. “I think, though, it’s probably a sign of what we might see in the future, that we’ll see a low level in the community, people can relax and let their guard down a little bit. But then sometimes it’s like that.” Will be when we can see the boom coming. … It’s a time when we unmask again. So I think there might be some on and off, and hopefully as we move forward, These surges become shorter, more spread out and less intense.”

until thursday, 19 California counties were at the high community level – Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Fresno, Kings, Lake, Madera, Marin, Monterey, Napa, Placer, Sacramento, San Benito, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma And yolo. However, only Alameda County has reinstated a public indoor mask mandate.

Ferrer has said that Los Angeles County will do what it takes should the high COVID-19 community level fall for two weeks in a row.

LA County, like the state as a whole, strongly recommends residents to wear masks indoors in public. But Ferrer acknowledged that “it’s a very hard needle” and said an unintended consequence of years of health orders could be that people don’t understand the urgency of a recommendation.

“People are now assuming that if we don’t issue orders and require safeguards it’s because it’s not necessary, and that’s not what we mean,” she said. “We’ve always benefited from people who are able to listen, ask questions, and then align with safety measures for the most part. And I think because it’s been such a long period, because at this point there’s a lot of fatigue. and in some sense desperation to fall back on customary practices, people are waiting for that command and taking that sensible precaution before proceeding.

This story was originally published in Los Angeles Times,

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