Cases: After months of decline, Covid numbers are increasing. Courtesy images

The turning of the seasons from summer to fall is often associated with apple cider, falling leaves and, for the last few years, an increase in COVID-19 cases. The same is true this year, with recorded case rates ticking up for the first time since July.

“During the past week, an average of 1,300 cases were reported per day [in LA County],” LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) Director Barbara Ferrer reported Thursday. “That’s a 24% increase from the seven day average of slightly over 1,000 cases reported per day last week.” 

Ferrer offered the report during the weekly DPH press briefing on the pandemic. According to the director, the average recorded daily cases hit a low point of 870 cases reported on Oct. 16, but cases have been increasing steadily since Nov. 1, marking the first two-week rise since the summer omicron surge.

With many public testing sites closed since the peak of the pandemic passed, and County residents reliant on at-home rapid tests, testing data is less accurate than ever. However, Ferrer said the County still considers testing a good indicator of swings in virus spread.

“While reported cases represent only a portion of those infected, we still pay attention to this trendline as it fairly accurately captures changes in transmission,” Ferrer said.

Of particular note was increased spread at skilled nursing facilities, where Ferrer said the County was working to spread access and awareness about new Bivalent vaccines specifically formulated for the new omicron variant of the virus.

A key challenge was messaging, according to Ferrer, who said many residents reported being unaware of new vaccine boosters or unclear on how or why they were offered.

Vaccination rates have dropped with each booster; presently, Ferrer said, DPH was “significantly concerned” over low vaccination rates among seniors — both the most susceptible and, historically, most vaccinated group.

“Another area that you can see a significant concern is a very low number of residents 65 or older that received their updated Bivalent booster dose,” Ferrer said, later adding, “23% is far below the 60% that we need to meet the threshold for “adequate.” This low number is worrying, especially given the possibility of a winter surge fueled by new strains of the virus that are very infectious.”

The areas of the County with the highest vaccination rates among seniors continue to be wealthier, predominantly Westside communities, with Mandeville Canyon (the area around the Getty Center), Cheviot Hills, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Manhattan Beach and the Marina Peninsula all in the top 10 most vaccinated communities for people ages 65 and up, among the 344 separate neighborhoods tracked by DPH. 

With 38.7% of Santa Monica seniors and 23.3% of all eligible Santa Monicans having received their Bivalent COVID-19 boosters as of latest available data (dated Nov. 6), Santa Monica is in the top-15% most vaccinated communities in LA County. 

In Pacific Palisades, 47% of seniors and 29% of all eligible residents had received the latest shot. Venice was less vaccinated — 38.2% of seniors had received their Bivalent shots, but only 19.3% of all eligible residents had received the newest boosters. Malibu was even lower, with 32% of seniors and 19% of all eligible residents receiving the latest shots.

The least vaccinated city in LA County was Vernon, with only 60 of its 3,480 residents receiving the latest shot — 1.7%.

“I do think it’s complicated, because we’re asking people to get another dose, and for some people, this is the fifth dose — for some people, it might even be the sixth dose,” Ferrer said, “And that’s unusual, even with vaccines where we ask people to come back multiple times. Especially because we weren’t able at the beginning to say, you know, ‘This is a vaccine you’re gonna need to take over and over and over again.’”

Part of what is thought to be driving the latest uptick is the spread of two new sub-variants of the virus, B2.1 and B2.1.1. These two sub-lineages fall under the broader omicron variant, meaning the Bivalent boosters should be effective against them, but their increased transmissibility means they can spread even faster than previously dominant strains of the virus and were on track to potentially take over as dominant strains.

With Thanksgiving nearly upon us and Christmas not far behind, Ferrer said it was not too late to get a vaccine booster, but the earlier the better.

Combine low vaccination rates and new virus variants with the early onset of the annual flu season and a stronger-than-usual Respiratory syncytial virus season, and hospitals were prepared for a tough few weeks ahead, Ferrer said.

“We are hearing anecdotally that hospitals and health care workers are feeling stressed,” Ferrer said. She later offered the same advice she has given for years.

“Given the increases in respiratory illness that’s circulating, knowing that we’re facing the possibility of having multiple respiratory illnesses circulating all at the same time and stressing our healthcare system, we all can be sure to do the things we know that work to prevent spreading respiratory illness: washing our hands, wiping down frequently touched surfaces, staying home if we’re not feeling well and wearing a well-fitting high-filtration mask when indoors, especially if you’re around those most vulnerable to severe illness, the very young and the very old,” Ferrer recommended.

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