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LA struggles to prevent new COVID outbreaks when school resumes

As summer vacation approaches, health officials are urging parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19, with some warning that the start of the school year could bring a spike in cases.

Infections and hospitalizations are declining after a prolonged summer wave, but that progress could be challenged as schools reopen.

It will be the first time during the pandemic that California will begin without a statewide school mask mandate, and vaccination rates — while robust for the public — are low among children.

Although COVID-19 deaths are rarer in young people than in adults, they do occur. Los Angeles County reported its 12th COVID-19 death in a person under the age of 18 on Friday.

“COVID-19 is here to stay, but we have learned ways and acquired tools to minimize its impact on our health and well-being,” the state Department of Public Health wrote in its latest guidance for schools. “California schools can manage this disease in sustainable and adaptive ways.”

Among the strategies recommended by state health officials are ensuring students and staff are up-to-date on vaccinations, improving indoor air quality, promoting good hand hygiene and supporting access to testing.

“Not only do vaccines provide individual-level protection, but higher vaccination coverage can reduce the burden of disease in schools and communities and help protect unvaccinated individuals or individuals who have not developed a strong immune response to vaccination,” the guidance states. .

According to data compiled by the Times, about 41% of 5- to 11-year-olds in California have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The figure is roughly the same for Los Angeles and Orange counties. By comparison, among 12- to 17-year-olds, 87% had received a dose in LA County, and 74% in Orange.

Vaccination rates are high in the San Francisco Bay Area. In San Francisco, 83% of 5- to 11-year-olds have had at least one dose, compared to more than 90% of 12- to 17-year-olds.

“Once the kids go back to school … I’m guessing we’ll probably have another wave in the early fall,” Dr. Clayton Chow, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said at a briefing Thursday. He noted that the number of children vaccinated in Orange is “quite low as in other counties.”

Chou said he thinks there will be “maybe, God forbid, another wave in the winter.”

“We cannot predict whether or not we will have another mutation, and whether or not the new mutation will be more severe and more spread than the others,” he said.

There is likely to be a slight increase in cases as the school year begins — especially in elementary schools, due to lower vaccination rates — but there are ways to reduce the risk, said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

“I think everyone knows what we can do to create as much safety as possible in schools so that kids can have all the learning opportunities they need,” he said, adding that it would be prudent to continue wearing masks indoors in schools. . “Masks work and they work well. And it’s a convenient, time-limited method [add] In a layer of protection while transmission rates are still high.”

The California Department of Public Health strongly recommends masking in indoor public settings.

While LA County is still struggling with a significant spread of the coronavirus, it’s slowing down. Authorities reported an average of 4,700 new cases per day last week, down 17% from the previous week. The latest per capita weekly case rate is 327 per 100,000 inhabitants; A rate of 100 or more is considered high.

Earlier this week, LA County had fewer than 10 new coronavirus-positive hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; By Thursday it had risen to 10.1. That puts the county at a “high” level of community transmission, as defined by the CDC. A rate of less than 10 allows LA County to fall into the “moderate” category.

“We remain hopeful” that L.A. County will exit the top tier soon, Ferrer said.

Given declining case counts and improved hospitalization rates, county health officials have ruled out reinstating the indoor mask mandate.

In all, 1,206 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized at 92 hospitals in LA County as of Thursday. That’s down about 9% from the wave’s apparent peak two weeks ago. About 43% of patients are hospitalized with a COVID-related illness, health officials estimate; The rest are coronavirus-positive but are in hospital for unrelated reasons.

The percentage of emergency room visits related to COVID-19 in LA County is decreasing, as are the number of outbreaks in nursing homes and homeless shelters and the number of workplaces reporting clusters of cases.

“The California Department of Public Health reports that overall hospital admissions have peaked across the state, including in Southern California,” Ferrer said. “Their modeling predicts further declines in hospital admissions with some plateauing and fluctuations throughout the month of August.”

However, deaths related to COVID-19 are on the rise. In the week ending Friday, LA County recorded 121 COVID-19 deaths, the most since late March. This is a byproduct of earlier increases in cases and hospitalizations, and deaths, like other metrics, may take some time to decline.

The latest pediatric COVID-19 death in LA County was announced in a patient between the ages of 12 and 17. Seven of the COVID-19 deaths in LA County occurred in that age group, three in 5- to 11-year-olds and two in those younger than 5.

A pediatric COVID-19 death is defined as occurring in a person who had symptomatic disease before death or who had pathologic evidence of coronavirus infection in the heart, lungs, or other tissues at autopsy.

Orange County has reported five COVID-19 deaths among children under the age of 18. The deceased was a previously healthy, unvaccinated teenager suffering from multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a potentially fatal complication of COVID-19, her father said in an interview. KCBS-TV.

California has reported 73 child COVID-19 deaths overall: 48 among 5- to 17-year-olds and 25 among younger ones.

Meanwhile, some California counties are exiting the high COVID-19 community level — the worst on the CDC’s three-tier scale.

The number of counties with high community levels dropped from 50 to 28 in the past two weeks. As of Thursday, 74% of Californians lived in top-rated counties, down from 83% a week earlier and 99% the week before. That is.

Sacramento, Kern, Tulare, Marin, Butte, Yolo, Shasta, Yuba, Tehama, Siskiyou, Amador, Mariposa and Trinity recently exited the top tier. A week ago, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Placer, San Luis Obispo, El Dorado, Nevada, Calaveras, Lassen, Del Norte, Colusa, Plumas and Inyo exited the top tier.

Much of coastal Southern California, including San Diego, Orange and Ventura counties, remains at high levels. Most of the counties in the Bay Area are also home to some of the most populous counties in the San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus.

Statewide, there were about 14,500 daily coronavirus cases from Sunday through Thursday, an 18% decrease from the previous week. On a per capita basis, 260 cases per 100,000 inhabitants per week.

293 people have died in the last week. In early June, there were weeks with less than 200.

Omicron subvariants BA.5 and BA.4 continue to worry health officials, as both have shown the ability to infect people who have recovered from older Omicron subvariants or earlier coronavirus strains such as Delta.

BA.5 accounted for an estimated 85.5% of new cases nationwide in the week ending July 30, according to the CDC. BA.4 is a distant second at 7.7%.

But officials are also keeping a close eye on the new Omicron subvariant, the BA.4.6. A descendant of BA.4, it accounts for only 1% of the coronavirus samples in L.A. County but is getting attention because “it’s accelerating like BA.5,” Ferrer said. “The question is whether it will really surpass the BA.5 and really start to take over.”

Nationwide, an estimated 4.1% of cases have recently been attributed to BA.4.6 — up from 2.3% in early July, CDC figures show.

“We’re paying attention to that,” Ferrer said. “We’re watching it carefully, because it seems to have some benefit in the rate of transmission. We’ll have to see.”

A different Omicron subvariant of concern in India, BA.2.75, has not yet made an impact in LA County. Only one case has been identified, “and that’s an encouraging sign that this strain isn’t dominating L.A. County like it did in India,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer said boosters specifically designed against the BA.5 and BA.4 are expected to be available, possibly as early as next month. However, it is not known whether eligibility for Omicron Booster is restricted by age or other criteria.

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