California seems to pass the peak of the omicron variant wave | Health, Medicine and Fitness
By DON THOMPSON – Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has shown signs that it has turned the corner in the omicron wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with infection rates falling and hospitalizations well below the crushing deluge that officials feared a few weeks ago.
More than 15,000 people are in hospital with coronavirus, a huge figure but well below last January’s peak of around 22,000 and half of what authorities feared. Positivity rates are down 15% from the start of this month and the state projection model shows that the number of hospitalizations has halved, to less than 7,700, in another month.
“This omicron has spread like wildfire and now it’s falling very quickly. And that’s exactly what we expect,” Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiologist at the University of Southern California, said Tuesday. “It’s like when a forest fire burns all the fuel. There is no more fuel to burn and the forest fire is extinguished.
Intensive care cases are taking longer to develop, so the peak of around 3,000 intensive care patients is not expected for another week. The number should then drop rapidly, possibly below 1,000 by the end of February. The death rate will continue to rise, with more than 5,000 people expected to die over the next three weeks before it too drops.
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“As we finally turn the corner on this surge, we will need to remain cautious in order to reduce transmission to a low enough level that it poses less risk to the most vulnerable people and less risk to our recovery journey.” , said Dr. Barbara. Ferrer, director of public health for Los Angeles County.
The omicron variant spreads even more easily than other strains of coronavirus. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or who have been infected with earlier versions of the virus. However, early studies show that omicron is less likely to cause severe disease than the delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still provide strong protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death.
Health officials are optimistic the worst of this surge is over based on a number of key indicators. In particular, the R-efficient it’s a measure of the likelihood of a disease spreading has dropped to its lowest statewide level in many months after peaking around Christmas.
“All of these are definitely good signs. We still know that the number of deaths is the biggest lag after the number of positive tests and hospitalizations, so we are not off the hook yet in terms of the number of people who have died,” Klausner said. “But all of these factors point to the reality that people are developing immunity to omicron.”
When last winter’s surge strained hospitals and morgues, vaccines were not widely available, fewer people had been exposed and treatment options had yet to be developed. Now, 80 to 90% of hospitalized people are not vaccinated.
“It really tells us that vaccines are keeping people out of the hospital, and that’s a big difference from last year,” Klausner said, although he said a bigger factor important could be the natural immunity that people develop when they have survived the infection.
Unlike previous waves, officials have not reopened remote makeshift facilities to manage the overflow of patients. Nor did they try to mobilize Governor Gavin Newsom. California Health Corpsan idea that largely failed earlier in the pandemic.
Instead, the state brought in 3,600 temporary healthcare workers to supplement at least 188 facilities. More than half were in population centers in Southern California, while nearly 700 were in the San Joaquin Valley, which has fewer people but also fewer resources.
On Tuesday, Newsom and legislative leaders agreed to spend an additional $1.4 billion to fight the pandemic. The money would expand testing and increase staffing at hospitals across the state. It would also pay for an education campaign that state officials say would “combat misinformation.”
The Legislature still needs to approve the spending before it becomes law, but the approval of the state’s two top Democratic leaders — Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon — means that passage is probable.
The changing dynamics on the ground have health officials once again debating the best approach to an ever-evolving pandemic.
Four doctors at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, including its pandemic response chief, have released an open letter and a petition urging Newsom and state health and education officials to end most masking requirements and other mandates, including booster shots, for school children because the virus is more of a part of the everyday life.
“Vaccines, boosters and masking remain our most effective tools,” California Department of Public Health officials said in a statement.
“Our policies must continue to adapt as the situation with the virus evolves,” they added. “As the push from Omicron wanes, Californians can expect updates to our COVID policies.”
California’s statewide indoor masking mandate is set to expire Feb. 15.
Klausner meanwhile said he believes those who have recovered from the virus should be considered on an equal footing with those who have been vaccinated. He criticized proposals by some state lawmakers to impose more vaccination mandates, including what he called a “very flawed” bill for remove personal belief exemptions for schoolchildren.
Other states appear to have followed the same omicron trajectory even though they have fewer restrictions, said Klausner and Dr. Lee Riley, chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of public health.
Associated Press writer Adam Beam contributed to this story.
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