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LA County seeing lower COVID-19 transmission levels, health officials say

Los Angeles County has continued seeing a reduction in coronavirus spread, logging its eighth consecutive week in the “low” community transmission level, health officials said Thursday, Oct. 20.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county could move from the “substantial” to “moderate” transmission levels in the coming days.

The county logged a daily average of just under 920 cases of COVID-19 last week, a slight decrease over the average of about 950 the previous week.

The number of new outbreaks in K-12 classrooms also fell, Ferrer said, from 11 last week to seven this week — and on-campus spread continues to be of low concern.

The number of new outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities, though, rose from seven last week to 13 and is now at medium concern level. But, Ferrer said, one positive case among a resident at an SNF is considered an outbreak.

Deaths linked to the virus averaged about 10 to 12 per day both this week and last week, Ferrer said. Health officials have noted that the majority of COVID-19 deaths have involved elderly people and those with underlying health conditions, including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Monitoring of viral concentration in wastewater showed a concentration of about 21% for the second straight week, placing that metric in the low concern category. A concentration above 30%, Ferrer said, would be a medium concern, and a number above 60% would be a high concern.

Omicron BA.5 variant, meanwhile, continues to be the most dominant subvariant of the virus, Ferrer said, but “it appears to be gradually accounting for fewer sequenced specimens, indicating that other variants could become more dominant in the future.”

BA.5 accounted for 88% of sequenced cases for the week ending Oct. 1, compared with 91% the prior week and 93% a few weeks before that.

“These changes are small, but they could indicate the beginning of a growth advantage by some of the other strains,” including BA.4.6, which increased to almost 6% of sequenced cases in the most recent data, Ferrer said.

“Some of these mutations make it easier to evade prior immunity,” she added, “meaning that many of us can be re-infected even if we were previously infected with a strain of omicron earlier this year.”

The variants can also break though protections such as vaccines and therapeutics, Ferrer said.

“The positive news is that the updated Pfizer and Moderna bivalent boosters contain the BA.4 and BA.5 spike protein,” she said, “and we expect that this will provide good protection.”

A recently completed analysis of COVID-19- and non-COVID-19-related mortality from 2019 to 2022, by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, also showed a possible increase in fatalities from other causes through delayed care or health systems being overwhelmed, officials said.

The study looked at four six-month periods, from January to June in each year, and found a substantial rise in the all-cause mortality rate in the first half of 2022 over 2019, the last year before the pandemic. The mortality rate rose across age levels, and was about twice as high in 2022 for Black and Latino people than for Asian and White people.

“We’ll need to do a better job using all the resources available” to protect against severe illness, hospitalization and death for those who contract the coronavirus, Ferrer said, citing four therapeutics that can play an essential role: paxlovid, remdesivir, molnupiravir and bebtelovimab.

Patients should consult with their health care providers before deciding which, if any, medicine is appropriate for them.

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Ferrer also reported that as of Wednesday, Novavax was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a booster for adults, meaning there are now three manufacturers for booster shots available.

Pfizer and Moderna offer bivalent mRNA boosters formulated to protect against the original COVID-19 strain and the omicron variant, while Novavax offers a traditional protein-based formula similar to a hepatitis B or shingles vaccines. It is formulated for the original COVID-19 strain, Ferrer said, but “it will likely provide some protection against omicron, and it’s a good option for people who are unable or unwilling to take an mRNA vaccine.”

The number of coronavirus patients in Los Angeles County hospitals increased by 20 to 399 on Thursday, one day after falling below 400 for the first time since May, according to the latest state figures.

Of those patients, 62 were being treated in intensive care, an increase of 11 from the previous day.

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to continue the city’s emergency declaration because of COVID-19 for at least another 30 days.

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