Last December 15, as the original wave of Omicron gained momentum, California reinstated a statewide indoor mask mandate. State public health official Tomás Aragón said the decision was “to add a layer of mitigation because the Omicron variant, a variant of concern as labeled by the World Health Organization, has increased in prevalence in California, the United States and around the world and spread much more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant. At the time, the state’s average 7-day test positivity rate was 2.6%.
Today, the state is beset by another variant of concern called BA.5, a sub-line believed to have at least four times the growth advantage of the original Omicron from December. CDC data indicates that as of the end of last week, BA.5 and the sister subvariant BA.4 accounted for about 68% of new cases in the region primarily comprising California, Arizona and Nevada. BA.5 represents the vast majority of these cases and looks set to eliminate all other variants in the coming weeks.
The current 7-day test positivity rate in California is 16.7%. That gives the current summer surge the dubious honor of having the second-highest test positivity rate the state has seen during the pandemic. This is just after the peak of the Omicron wave last winter. And it goes even higher.
Since the increased growth rate of BA.5 is largely due to its ability to evade the protection provided by previous infection and – to a lesser extent – the protection provided by vaccination, the State cannot not rely on vaccination in the same way as he could with the original Omicron. vague.
Moreover, the three metrics of most concern to health officials – hospital and intensive care beds occupied by people infected with Covid and the average number of daily Covid deaths – are already well above this. they were before Christmas.
The director of public health for the state’s most populous county, Los Angeles, said yesterday that she expects her county to move to the CDC’s “high” level Covid designation next week due to of the increase in number. If LA remains in that category for 14 days, the county will reimpose a mask mandate in public places.
Statewide, 35 of California’s 58 counties are also so designated by the CDC. Few of them talked about restoring masking. Neither does the state.
An apparent bright spot in the situation of the region fades on closer inspection.
Cases reported over the past month, while steadily increasing, have not increased at nearly the rate of December. The problem is that reported test results have dropped dramatically since December as more Californians use home kits, the results of which are not captured in official reports.
For this reason, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha told Lester Holt on NBC evening news last night, “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re missing a large majority of infections right now.”
Even with the limited test reports, the number recorded in California today – 13,000 new cases – is already 44% higher than the roughly 9,000 cases reported on December 15 of last year. That, coupled with Golden State’s extremely high test positivity and a much more infectious variant, doesn’t bode well.