Coronavirus cases are on the rise in Los Angeles County workplaces and schools, underscoring the need for extra precautions to prevent outbreaks, officials said.
The documented infections in these settings reflect what has been a steady increase in coronavirus activity across the county for weeks. But officials say schools and workplaces may pose a higher risk of transmission because they are typically places where people congregate indoors in close proximity for hours at a time.
“Businesses, schools, healthcare facilities and other organizations continue to play a key role in promoting safety,” county public health director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday. “However, as we have learned from our experience, we have a better chance of avoiding tragic consequences when we slow the spread.”
The county has established a Coronavirus Transmission Early Warning Framework that assesses a number of measures and classifies them as low, medium or high concern. Health officials now consider the number of clusters in workplaces and outbreaks in schools to be of moderate concern.
Countywide, 108 yards reported new clusters of coronavirus cases last week, up from 82 the previous week. The number of weekly K-12 outbreaks doubled over the same period, from six to 13.
The number of reported coronavirus cases among K-12 students and staff has more than quadrupled in the past month, according to Ferrer. About 300 LA County elementary students and staff tested positive for the coronavirus between March 21 and 27, but that number jumped to about 1,200 between April 18 and 24.
“There are almost as many cases among students and staff now as there were in mid-February,” Ferrer said, an increase likely fueled at least in part by spring break travel.
And, she continued, “with many year-end events, we will continue to see additional increases unless there is a very big difference in the level of protection individuals are taking. ”
Overall, the average number of new coronavirus infections reported daily in LA County has increased 29% since last week, from 1,835 to 2,366.
Per capita, LA County now has 164 cases per week per 100,000 people. Anything over 100 or more is considered a high rate of coronavirus transmission, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statewide, health officials reported an average of just under 7,000 new coronavirus cases per day over the past week, according to health data compiled by The Times. That’s about 24% more than a week ago.
Still, the latest increases are a far cry from the peaks seen in December, when cases in LA County swelled by more than 100% week-over-week — and at its worst, by more than 200%.
Current case rates still remain well below the peak of Omicron’s winter surge. At this point, LA County alone was reporting nearly 42,000 cases per day, or nearly 2,900 cases per week per 100,000 population.
“We are not at the alarming rates that we were at the height of the Omicron surge,” Ferrer said during a briefing. “What we’ve seen now is this gradual increase, which is more tolerable. This allows us, especially in high-risk settings, to get some of the transmission ahead and introduce some measures that can – we hope – actually slow the spread.
Workplaces and schools must take precautions
Given current conditions, Ferrer has made recommendations to help prevent transmission in workplaces and schools.
Masks and vaccinations: “Please wear a properly fitted and highly protective mask or respirator when in close contact with other people indoors. Get vaccinated, and if you’re already fully vaccinated, get a booster dose or your second booster dose if it’s your time,” Ferrer said. LA County employers are required to offer properly fitting masks to employees who work indoors in close contact with others.
Trial: Workers and students who have been exposed to the virus should get tested as soon as possible and wear a mask indoors around others. A person is considered exposed if they shared the same indoor airspace with a coronavirus-positive person while infectious for at least 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. In schools, officials strongly recommend weekly testing for those who are not fully vaccinated.
Physical distancing: “Physical distancing in common areas such as break areas and cafeterias is recommended at job sites while we are in a higher transmission period,” Ferrer said.
Isolation and quarantine: Symptomatic people should stay home and get tested. Asymptomatic people in close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus should wear a mask around others for 10 days after their last exposure.
Ventilation: Officials say improving ventilation — by installing air filters, turning on the air conditioning system or simply opening doors and windows — can help reduce viral transmission.
Tips for other social events, including proms
For those at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, as well as those who live with them, it is prudent to be strategic about gatherings. Ferrer gave the following advice:
- Make sure you and other guests are vaccinated and boosted.
- Keep gatherings small and hold them outdoors, if possible.
- For indoor gatherings, improve air circulation by opening windows and doors or turning on fans.
- Get tested before and after harvest, especially if you think you have been exposed.
- County health officials also continue to recommend that residents mask up in indoor public places.
Similar advice applies to proms, which were a source of superspreader events in the San Francisco Bay Area in April.
“One thing you could do to immediately make a prom safer is to have it outside,” Ferrer said. “Consider asking people to get tested before coming.”
Ferrer said she doesn’t think proms should be canceled, given the different layers of protection that schools and attendees can implement. Bay Area health officials issued similar advice and said they weren’t suggesting proms limit capacity.
“I think people need to be careful and careful and have a good time, knowing that you don’t want to ruin that good time by getting sick or making someone else sick later,” Ferrer said.
What do the other measurements show?
Levels of coronavirus detected in LA County sewage have remained stable, and the test positivity rate has increased only slightly, to just over 2%.
And while coronavirus-positive hospitalizations appeared to be trending up a week ago, they have since leveled off, hovering between around 225 and 250 over the past week – still a historically low number for the pandemic.
There are also very few coronavirus-positive patients in intensive care units, a figure that has remained stable. As of Wednesday in LA County, there were 36. The all-time low of 19 was recorded on April 22.
Statewide, 1,112 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized Thursday, an increase of about 8% from a week ago.
The relative stability of hospitalizations “could reflect this usual lag we see between cases and hospitalization, although I note that this would be a longer lag period than what we usually see. It is also likely to reflect the protective effects of vaccinations, boosters and therapeutics,” Ferrer said.
And the variants?
Many of the new spikes recorded across the country and around the world are attributed to a handful of Omicron subvariants – including BA.2, which is now the dominant bloodline circulating in LA County and the United States. in their whole.
It is thought to be about 30% more transmissible than its parent strain. And officials believe the new BA.2.12.1 subvariant is 25% more contagious than BA.2.
“Many other communities … across the country are beginning to see an increase in hospitalizations associated with the highly infectious BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 variants that are now circulating widely in many parts of the United States, including here in County of LA,” Ferrer said.
If BA.2.12.1 ends up becoming the dominant strain in LA County, “we will continue to see these increases in cases unless people are more cautious than they are now,” Ferrer said.
Deaths from COVID-19 are no longer steadily declining nationwide as they had been since early February, when there was an Omicron peak of nearly 19,000 deaths per week. The CDC released a forecast on Wednesday that new national COVID-19 deaths could rise from the current rate of 2,300 per week to more than 3,000 per week later this month.
“I know that almost everyone is tired of the pandemic, tired of wearing masks … and it is very tempting to minimize the impact of the virus to support our desire to return to our pre-pandemic lives,” said Shoe. “Unfortunately, I think that would be a mistake that could make it harder for us to adopt strategies that extend protections, while minimizing disruptions.”