As summer vacation draws to a close, health officials are urging parents to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19, warning that the start of the school year could lead to an increase in cases.
Infections and hospitalizations are falling after a prolonged summer surge, but that progress could be challenged as schools reopen.
It will be the first time during the pandemic that the traditional school year has started in California without a statewide school mask mandate, and vaccination rates — while robust for the general public — are low among children. .
Although deaths from COVID-19 are rarer in young people than in adults, they do happen. Los Angeles County reported its 12th death from COVID-19 on Friday in a person under the age of 18.
“COVID-19 is here to stay, but we have learned methods and acquired tools to reduce its impact on our health and well-being,” the state Department of Public Health wrote in its latest guidelines for the schools. “California schools can sustainably and adaptively manage this disease.”
Among the strategies recommended by state health officials are ensuring students and staff stay up-to-date on vaccinations, improving indoor air quality, promoting a good hand hygiene and supporting access to testing.
“Not only do vaccinations provide protection at the individual level, but high vaccination coverage reduces the burden of disease in schools and communities and can help protect people who are not vaccinated or those who do not develop a strong response. immune to vaccination,” says the guide. .
About 41% of children ages 5 to 11 in California have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to data compiled by The Times.
The figure is about the same for Los Angeles and Orange counties. By comparison, among 12- to 17-year-olds, 87% in LA County received a dose, while 74% did so in Orange.
Vaccination rates are highest in the San Francisco Bay Area. In San Francisco, 83% of 5- to 11-year-olds received at least one dose, as did more than 90% of 12- to 17-year-olds.
“I predict that after the kids get back to school … we will probably have another wave in early fall,” said Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, during a Thursday briefing. He noted that the number of children vaccinated in Orange “is pretty low, like every other county.”
Chau said he thinks there will be “maybe, God forbid, another surge in winter.”
“We cannot predict whether or not we will have another variant, and whether or not the new variant will be more severe and more transmissible than the others,” he said.
There is a possibility of an uptick in cases at the start of the school year — especially in elementary schools, due to lower vaccination rates — but there are ways to reduce the risk, said Barbara Ferrer , director of public health for Los Angeles County.
“I think everyone knows what we can do to create as much safety as possible in schools, so that children can have all the learning opportunities they need,” she said, noting that it would be prudent to continue wearing masks indoors in schools. . “The masks work, and they work well. And that would be an appropriate, time-limited approach to [add] in a protection layer when transmission rates are still high.
The California Department of Public Health also strongly recommends wearing masks in indoor public places.
As LA County still grapples with substantial spread of the coronavirus, it’s slowing down. Authorities reported an average of 4,700 new cases a day over the past week, down 17% from the previous week. The latest weekly case rate per capita is 327 per 100,000 population; a rate of 100 or more is considered high.
Earlier this week, there were fewer than 10 new coronavirus-positive hospital admissions per 100,000 LA County residents, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Thursday, it had risen to 10.1. This keeps the county in the “high” level of community transmission as defined by the CDC. A rating below 10 would allow LA County to fall into the “average” category.
“We remain hopeful” that LA County will leave the top tier soon, Ferrer said.
Given declining case numbers and improving hospitalization rates, county health officials have ruled out reinstating an indoor mask mandate.
Overall, 1,206 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized at the 92 hospitals in LA County on Thursday. That’s about 9% lower than the wave’s apparent peak two weeks ago. About 43% of those patients are hospitalized with illness associated with COVID, health officials estimate; the others test positive for coronavirus but are hospitalized for unrelated reasons.
The percentage of ER visits in LA County associated with COVID-19 is also declining, as are the number of outbreaks in nursing homes and homeless shelters and the number of workplaces reporting clusters of case.
“The California Department of Public Health reports that total hospital admissions peaked statewide, including Southern California,” Ferrer said. “Their modeling predicts further declines in hospital admissions, as well as some plateauing and fluctuation throughout August.”
Deaths related to COVID-19 are, however, on the rise. In the week ending Friday, LA County recorded 121 deaths from COVID-19, the most since late March. This is the byproduct of earlier increases in cases and hospitalizations, and it will likely take some time before deaths begin to decline, as other measures have.
The latest pediatric death from COVID-19 in LA County, announced Friday, involved a patient between the ages of 12 and 17. There have been seven COVID-19 deaths in LA County among this age group, three among ages 5 to 11. -old and two under 5 years old.
A COVID-19 pediatric death is defined as occurring in a person who suffered from symptomatic illness before death or who showed pathological evidence of coronavirus infection in the heart, lungs or other tissues during an autopsy.
Orange County has reported five COVID-19 deaths in children under 18. One was a previously healthy, unvaccinated teenager who suffered from multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which can be a deadly complication of COVID-19, according to an interview his father gave to KCBS-TV.
California as a whole has reported 73 pediatric deaths related to COVID-19: 48 among ages 5 to 17 and 25 among younger ones.
Meanwhile, some California counties are coming out of the COVID-19 community high — the worst on the CDC’s three-tier scale.
The number of high-level community counties fell over the past two weeks from 50 to 28. As of Thursday, 74% of Californians lived in high-level counties, down from 83% a week earlier and 99% the previous week. this.
Those most recently out of the top tier are Sacramento, Kern, Tulare, Marin, Butte, Yolo, Shasta, Yuba, Tehama, Siskiyou, Amador, Mariposa, and Trinity. A week earlier, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Placer, San Luis Obispo, El Dorado, Nevada, Calaveras, Lassen, Del Norte, Colusa, Plumas and Inyo came out of the top tier.
Much of the Southern California coast remains at high level, including San Diego, Orange, and Ventura counties. The same is true for most counties in the Bay Area, as well as some highly populated counties in the San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus.
Statewide, there were about 14,500 coronavirus cases per weekday through Thursday, down 18% from the previous week. Per capita, this represents 260 cases per week per 100,000 inhabitants.
Last week there were 293 deaths. In early June, there were weeks when there were fewer than 200.
The Omicron BA.5 and BA.4 subvariants continue to worry health officials, as both have shown the ability to re-infect people who have recovered from older Omicron subvariants or earlier coronavirus strains, such as Delta.
According to the CDC, BA.5 accounted for about 85.5% of new cases nationwide for the week ending July 30. BA.4 was far behind at 7.7%.
But officials are also keeping a close eye on a new Omicron sub-variant, BA.4.6. A descendant of BA.4, it makes up just 1% of coronavirus samples in LA County but is attracting attention because “it is accelerating at a rate similar to BA.5,” Ferrer said. “The question is really whether it’s going to surpass BA.5 and really start to take over.”
Nationally, an estimated 4.1% of cases were recently attributed to BA.4.6, up from 2.3% in early July, according to CDC figures.
“We pay attention to that,” Ferrer said. “We are watching it carefully, as it appears to have some advantages in the rate at which it proliferates. We will just have to see.
Another Omicron sub-variant, BA.2.75, which has caused concern in India, has yet to make an impact in LA County. Only one case has been identified, “and this is an encouraging sign that this strain is not gaining dominance in LA County as it has in India,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer said boosters designed specifically against BA.5 and BA.4 are expected to be available perhaps as early as next month. It is unclear, however, whether eligibility for the Omicron booster will be limited by age or other criteria.