Los Angeles County has officially entered into the “low community transmission level” for COVID-19 even as schools are back in session and extreme heat has driven more people inside.

The 7-day average case count declined 18% last week and the county’s new designation is a result of falling below the threshold set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of fewer than 200 cases per 100,000. 

“Getting into the low community level reflects minimal stress on the hospital care system in LA County associated with COVID-19,” LA County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. 

The decline comes as students went back to school. Health officials said while many sectors are experiencing declines in clusters of cases and outbreaks, there have been increases in the number of clusters of cases and outbreaks at schools. There have been a total of 624 clusters reported at schools since August 7 that involved more than 3,500 individuals, of which 3,355 were students. The number of reported clusters more than tripled each week throughout August, with 38 clusters reported for the week ending August 13, 135 clusters reported for the week ending August 20, and 451 clusters for the week ending August 27.

Since schools reopened, 27 outbreaks have been documented in elementary schools. Eight outbreaks are associated with Youth Sports programs, and five outbreaks have been documented in middle schools. There has been only one outbreak associated with a high school.

As of last week LA county was reporting a case rate of 192.78 per 100,000 residents, according to CDC data. 

“Our hope is that we can continue to slow transmission so we reach a weekly case rate of less than one-hundred,” Ferrer said. 

To reach this goal she said people should continue to take precautions including staying home when sick, limiting time spent indoors with large groups of people and testing between the third to fifth day after being exposed to someone with the virus. 

Ferrer also emphasized the importance of vaccines to continue combating the spread of COVID, specifically the recently approved, reformulated booster shot designed to target the Omicron variant of the disease, which continues to be the dominant strain in LA County. Ferrer said that doses of the booster are expected to arrive in the county next week. 

“We’ve already pre-ordered about 170,000 doses and we expect to receive these doses between the sixth and the ninth of September,” she said. “More than 300 different healthcare providers across LA county are preparing to administer the boosters starting in mid-September and many providers are expected to offer the boosters at multiple locations.” 

Both Pfizer and Moderna are manufacturing versions of the new booster. The Pfizer booster is approved for use in people 12 years or older and the Moderna one is approved for those 18 and older. 

Ferrer estimated that close to 7 million people in LA county will be eligible for the new vaccine and urged people to get it as soon as possible. 

“You gain a lot of protection by getting boosted, particularly if there’s some time that’s passed since your last vaccine dose,” she said. “Omicron is what’s circulating right now, both BA.4 and BA.5, and that’s exactly what these boosters are made to protect us against.” 

To maximize the booster’s efficacy Ferrer said it must be administered at least two months after a person last received a different booster or their initial COVID-19 vaccine. 

grace@smdp.com