Mask mandates are appearing more imminent following the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s weekly press briefing on Thursday, in which they painted a grim picture of what’s most likely to come.
Although daily COVID-19 case rates in Los Angeles County have leveled out somewhat, the seven-day average case rate has skyrocketed, hospitalizations have continued to rise and death rates are showing no signs of reprieve.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said preventative measures such as masking will be necessary to save lives in the near future.
“If we can slow down transmission, we have a good chance of preventing some people from dying in the upcoming months,” said Ferrer. “You don’t get sick and pass away if you don’t get infected.”
Ferrer said that even though death rates (18 per day) and daily COVID cases have stabilized to a degree, the current dominant subvariant (BA.5) is still driving up seven-day average case rates (now at 481 per 100,000) and hospitalizations (11.4 per 100,000). The spike in weekly case rates, Ferrer pointed out, was unprecedented.
“This is the highest this case rate has been since (the Centers for Disease Control) started the community levels framework back in March,” said Ferrer.
The community levels framework is the model in which the CDC measures the impact of COVID-19 on local health care systems. According to Public Health, all but one of the CDC framework’s early warning alert signals are in the medium or high tier. These include percent of specimens identified as a new variant of concern (a high concern is anything above 20%, L.A. County is at 72%), the seven-day average of COVID-related emergency department encounters, the number of new outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities, and the number of worksite cluster reports.
Ferrer not only stressed the dangers of the illness that COVID-19 brings, but also brought to light new evidence regarding its long-term effects. Although there is still not much known about “long COVID” and it remains difficult to track, Ferrer said recent research is showing that symptoms can last much longer than two weeks.
Ferrer cited a study conducted in Germany that followed 90 patients, who had COVID-19, and found that only 23% of them were free of symptoms after a year. A CDC study published last month found that 20% of American adults who had COVID-19 are experiencing long COVID symptoms three or more months after they initially got sick. This month, a University of Southern California study found that 23% still had symptoms at least 12 weeks after their initial symptoms.
Ferrer said that, as it has in the past, the recent surge is disproportionally hospitalizing some communities more than others.
As of June 30 hospitalizations for those over 80 years old are 29 times higher than those between 30 and 49 years old. This is a stark difference compared to April’s numbers — when the difference in rates were not as significant.
“When people pass along misinformation that the current COVID surge is not affecting or hurting anyone, these are the people they are dismissing. Our elders,” said Ferrer.
Ferrer said there were also other groups being disproportionately affected by the surge.
“Residents living in communities with lower incomes, higher rates of poverty, are also much more likely to be hospitalized than those living in wealthier communities,” said Ferrer. “And while individuals living in the highest-poverty areas have consistently had higher hospitalization rates than individuals living in the wealthiest areas, the gap…has grown recently during the surge.”
According to Public Health, those living in poverty are two times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 and hospitalization rates in the lowest-income communities rose by 350%.
Similar to recent COVID surges, Black residents are hospitalized from COVID-19 almost twice as much as those who are white.
“If we care about eliminating these gaps and outcomes by race and ethnicity and by poverty levels, we will need to reduce transmission rates during surges,” said Ferrer. “Which we have seen, time and time again, hurts some residents more than others.”