Daily reported coronavirus cases are rising in Los Angeles County as the region grapples with the early effects of a new boom fueled by a highly mutated Omicron variant.
A day after reporting 6,509 new coronavirus cases – which was more than double the figure the day before – county health officials reported another eye-popping infection on Thursday: 8,633.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Wednesday, “This sharp increase is one of the fastest we’ve ever seen during the pandemic, due to the increased circulation of omicrons and the associated rapid acceleration of transmission associated with this variant.” reflects.” ,
And the surge isn’t just in L.A. In San Francisco, public health officials said the local case rate had tripled, which they called “a clear sign that we’ve entered a fifth surge in the pandemic.”
San Francisco health director Dr. Grant Colfax said in a statement Thursday, “Omicrons are spreading rapidly, and all evidence points to the fact that we need to do more to protect ourselves and others from infection.” Is required.” “Boosters are important right now for your own safety and the people you love. We also want people to celebrate the holidays more safely and with extra precautions.”
On Monday, federal health officials said the Omicron version was now the dominant version of the coronavirus nationwide, accounting for an estimated 73% of new infections last week.
“Due to Omicron, we expect a significant increase in cases,” said Jeff Ziants, President Biden’s COVID-19 task force coordinator. “Fully vaccinated people, especially those who have received a boost, are highly protected. But because of the highly infectious nature of Omicron, we will see that fully vaccinated people get COVID. They will probably last a few days.” Will feel asymptomatic for or under the weather. Let’s be clear: Unvaccinated people are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill, hospitalized and dying from COVID.”
Gavin Newsom predicted a similar development in California during a briefing on Wednesday, saying “we’re now tracking well north of 50% of all sequenced genomes” that are being identified as omicrons. Is.
While scientists are still racing to understand the full impact of the variant, the best lines of defense are familiar: “Get vaccinated; encourage; wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with substantial and high-risk community transmission; and Do a test before you assemble,” said Dr. Rochelle Valensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the test has been tough for some. Recent heavy demand has left residents facing empty store shelves or struggling with long lines at screening sites.
A winter storm that hit Southland on Thursday compounded the problem, forcing some testing and vaccine sites indoors or closed.
California officials have said they are prepared to see an uptick in cases linked to Omicron and have announced measures aimed at helping the state against a winter resurgence.
These include a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces and a requirement for workers in healthcare and high-risk congregation settings to receive a booster vaccine dose, as well as providing rapid testing and hours for students in K-12 public schools. plans to expand. Busy in screening sites.
In the week-long period ending Thursday morning, California reported an average of 9,674 new coronavirus cases per day – a 37% increase from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times.
The pace of COVID-19 hospitalizations has also been slow, albeit at a slower pace. The number of coronavirus positive patients across the state as of Wednesday, 3,622, is about 6.5% higher than two weeks ago.
Deaths over the same time have been relatively flat. An average of 72 Californians have died of COVID-19 each day during the past week.
In earlier waves, officials noted a consistent rhythm of the epidemic – with a surge in cases involving hospitalizations about two weeks later and deaths a few weeks later.
Therefore, the full impact of Omicron’s recent spread is yet to be felt.
Ferrer said, “Although many people in this era will be protected from Omicron’s most serious disease because they are fully vaccinated and promoted where they are eligible, too many cases can easily hit our health system.” can cause significant stress.”
However, there are promising signs that the variant—though highly contagious—may cause less-severe symptoms.
Preliminary data from England, Scotland, Denmark And South Africa suggests that the need for hospitalization as a result of an Omicron infection decreased by 40% to 70% compared to the Delta version.
There is also no evidence that people who have been vaccinated and received a booster shot become seriously ill from Omicron, unless they have a significantly weakened immune system.
The prospect of a type that spreads easily, but causes largely mild disease, has been met with optimism in some corners.
“Would it be better if the omicron was completely widespread and of relatively less severity? Yes, obviously, it would be better,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser.
But, he said during a briefing on Wednesday, “it’s a dangerous business to be able to rely on what you see as less serious.”
“When you’re dealing with a virus that has fooled us so many times before, you can’t trust anything,” Fauci said.
There is also a mathematical reality that comes into play. The ultra-contagious nature of omicrons means that an exceptionally high number of people can be infected in a short period of time.
And even though a small percentage require hospital care, a large number of one-time infections can overwhelm the hospital system, especially in areas where vaccination rates are low.
“The problem is a numbers problem,” Ferrer said. “So if the omicron causes less severe disease but it infects many more people, then even if you have a small number of infected people who have severe disease, you could still end up with a huge number.”
Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.