Last December 15, as the original Omicron wave began to gain momentum in earnest, California again instituted a national mandate for indoor masks. State Public Health Officer Tomás Aragón said the move was “to add a layer of mitigation as the Omicron variant, a variant of care as labeled by the World Health Organization, has increased in prevalence in California, the United States.” States and the world and has spread widely.” easier than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant.” At that time, the state’s 7-day average test positivity was 2.6%.
Today, the state is plagued by another variant of concern called BA.5, a subline that is believed to have a growth advantage at least four times that of the original Omicron from December. CDC data indicates that BA.5 and sister subvariant BA.4 at the end of last week accounted for about 68% of new cases in the region consisting primarily of California, Arizona and Nevada. BA.5 is responsible for the vast majority of those cases, and it looks like all other variants will be out in the coming weeks.
The current 7-day test positivity rate in California is 16.7%. That gives the current summer wave the dubious honor of having the second-highest test positivity the state has seen during the pandemic. It is the second after the peak of last winter’s Omicron wave. And it’s still going higher.
Since BA.5’s higher growth rate is largely due to its ability to evade the protection afforded by prior infection and – to a lesser extent – the protection afforded by vaccination, the state cannot rely on vaccination in the same way as with the original Omicron Wave.
In addition, the three most worrying statistics for health officials — hospital and ICU beds occupied by people infected with Covid and the average number of daily Covid deaths — are already well above pre-Christmas levels.
The director of public health in Los Angeles, the state’s most populous county, said yesterday that she expects her county to receive the CDC’s high-level Covid designation next week as a result of rising numbers. If LA stays in that category for 14 days, the county will again impose a mask mandate in public places.
Statewide, 35 of California’s 58 counties are also so designated by the CDC. Few of them have talked about resetting masking. Neither does the state.
An apparent bright spot in the situation in the region fades on closer inspection.
The number of reported cases over the past month, while steadily increasing, has not increased as quickly as in December. The problem is, reported test results have dropped dramatically since December as more Californians use home kits, the results of which are not captured in official reporting.
That’s why Ashish Jha, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator, told Lester Holt on NBC’s Nightly news last night: “I have no doubt that we are missing a vast majority of infections right now.”
Even with limited testing reporting, the number registered in California today — 13,000 new cases — is already 44% above the roughly 9,000 cases reported as of December 15 last year. That, combined with the Golden State’s sky-high test positivity and a much more contagious variety, doesn’t bode well.