Public Health says COVID-19 indicators remain low but express caution over recent outbreaks
Los Angeles County Public Health Department officials said Thursday that countywide COVID-19 indicators remain below Centers for Disease Control benchmarks — however, a handful of recently reported outbreaks could potentially throw that into flux.
During a press conference held Thursday afternoon, Barbara Ferrer, the Public Health Department director, stated that her staff tracked a tripling over the last week in the number of new outbreaks spreading at some L.A. County schools.
“While our community level is low, reflecting little strain on the health care system, I will note we’re starting to detect some areas of concern in our system of early alert signals,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer said that in the week ending April 5, 12 elementary schools and two high schools reported multiple new cases within their student bodies and said the overall near tripling in outbreaks was parallel to the numbers experienced during the Omicron surge this past winter.
“Furthermore, we’re seeing a higher number of cases associated with the recent outbreak,” said Ferrer. “For instance, there’s one active high school outbreak which opened with 26 (epi-linked cases) transmitting to each other which has since grown to 60 cases in that one school.
Ferrer said that in the week ending March 19, testing labs reported 47% of their sequence specimens were caused by the BA.2 virus, which is considered by epidemiologists to be more contagious than Omicron was.
“This increase in outbreaks likely reflects increased circulation of the more easily transmitted BA.2 variant, as well as the lifting of indoor masking requirements at schools, as well as the change in the state’s quarantine guidance that no longer requires asymptomatic students remaining in school during their quarantine period to wear masks and be tested,” Ferrer said. “It’s very likely that the BA.2 is now the predominant subvariant in L.A. County; the XE recombinant — a combination of the BA.1 and BA.2 sub variants that is circulating at low levels in the United Kingdom — has not yet been detected in California.”
Although describing the educational settings’ outbreaks, proliferation of the BA.2 variant and possible impact this all might have on emergency departments, possible areas “for concern,” Ferrer did note that L.A. County — which only roughly a year ago was one of the worst affected by the pandemic — continues to have a comparatively low Centers for Disease Control community level rating, meaning that the disease is less severe than before as it pertains to the strain it placed on local health care systems.
CDC metrics, Ferrer said, are based on three primary factors: the county’s weekly case rate per 100,000 residents, its admission of new COVID-19 hospital patients over a cumulative seven days, and the proportion of staffed inpatient beds that are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
As of the end of last week, L.A. County was reporting 55 new cases per 100,000 residents every seven days, approximately two new hospitalized patients per 100,000 every week and the staffed beds to patient ratio is slightly under 2% countywide.
“As indicators suggest a possible area of concern, we consider opportunities to strengthen our preparedness efforts to refine or implement additional protective measures and to encourage residents to take sensible steps to protect themselves and others,” said Ferrer.