Delivering her final press briefing of the year, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer expressed cautious optimism on COVID-19 numbers for winter, but stressed the importance of preventative measures.
Case rates have declined to 2,300 cases per day (13% decrease from last week), hospitalizations have stopped falling and are now at 192 per day (7.9% increase from last week) and deaths have taken a “small, but welcome” decrease to 15 per day (down from 21 per day last week).
Ferrer said while the Public Health Department is relieved to see decreases in case rates, these numbers need to be looked at in perspective.
“While any drop in COVID cases, hospitalizations or deaths is positive news, it’s still important to maintain perspective,” said Ferrer. “In mid-November, reported deaths and hospitalizations were about 50% of the current counts and COVID hospitalizations are still well above the peak of the summer surge.”
Public Health noted that much of this winter’s surge can be attributed to the gatherings held around Thanksgiving weekend and during December holidays — saying that case rates on the Monday before Thanksgiving were at 1,800 per day and that by Dec. 7, they were at 3,900 per day. Cases have now fallen to the previously mentioned amount, but Ferrer again acknowledged the number is an undercount.
“As I share these numbers, I’m relieved that the trend lines for cases is declining,” said Ferrer. “It is important to note that while the number of reported cases provides some good insight about transmission levels, this metric does not catch all cases — especially with so many people testing at home.”
Even as some metrics begin to generally fall — partly due to advances in therapeutics and updated vaccines that have prevented hospitalizations and deaths — the Public Health Department is still strongly recommending wearing a mask since transmission of COVID-19 is still high.
“I think L.A. County is known for her kindness and compassion and that’s what wearing a mask is about — keeping other people safe as well as yourself. So my hope is that people acknowledge [that] we’ve got a lot of transmission of lots of viruses that can cause illness, masks help. This is not indefinite, we don’t have to wear masks forever. But when transmission is high this is a sensible step to take.”
For those who are eligible (ages five and older), bivalent vaccines that protect against the Omicron variant and its sub-variants (BA.4, BA.5, etc.) are now widely available. Approximately 6 million L.A. County residents have not yet received at least a booster shot and about 20% have not received a bivalent vaccine.
Mortality rates of COVID are still of concern, especially compared to other respiratory illnesses. Public Health wanted to combat a persistent piece of misinformation that the flu is killing more people than COVID-19. Even using high estimates of flu deaths since October, COVID deaths during the same time period are twice that (764) of the flu.
Transmission of the flu can be prevented in a similar manner to preventing the transmission of COVID, which includes wearing a mask indoors and being vaccinated.