Omicron deaths, cases hit southern California hardest in state


The winter Omicron wave hit Southern California harder than any other part of the state, a Times data analysis found, again highlighting the region’s vulnerability.

The data — from Dec. 1, when the state’s first Omicron case was confirmed, through Monday — is helping paint a more complete picture of Omicron’s killing spree across California and shows how the pain of the pandemic continues to be uneven.

But the numbers also lend further credence to what health officials have long claimed: that the surest way to stave off the worst of the ravages of the coronavirus is a robust vaccination.

The widely vaccinated and boosted San Francisco Bay Area, for example, had the lowest hospitalization and death rates in the state during the recent surge in the variant coronavirus, despite having the second-highest case rates.

Conversely, the mortality rate in rural northern California was about the same as in southern California, although the case rate in the latter was more than double.

Increasing vaccination rates, health officials and experts say, is all the more urgent given the widespread relaxation of other measures – namely mask mandates – imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

It’s also important for more people to roll up their sleeves, as another wave is already looming in other parts of the world.

“None of us want to go back to masking everywhere, restricting travel, restricting jobs. I think everyone agrees on that goal,” said Dr. UC San Francisco Medical School Chair Robert Wachter Wednesday during a roundtable hosted by the US House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

“The question,” he continued, “is what can we do to enable people to live as normal lives as possible with as few restrictions as possible, and to allow our economy to be as open as possible?” Of course, to achieve this, we need to encourage more vaccinations, more boosters, maybe there will be another booster in our future. We need to allow more testing and we need treatments out there.”

As of Dec. 1, Southern California has recorded 10,103 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people — the highest of the state’s five regions, according to a Times analysis of data from the California Department of Health.

Infection rates were 7,714 per 100,000 residents in the Bay Area, 7,341 in the San Joaquin Valley, 6,459 in the Greater Sacramento area and 4,892 in Northern California, data showed.

The state defines Southern California as Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

While it’s not surprising that this region — home to more than half of all Californians — had a high raw number of cases, the analysis found that many counties in the region were among the hardest-hit by infections, even when counting the population became.

Of California’s 58 counties, LA had the highest overall case rate during the Omicron rise. San Diego was third; Imperial, fourth; San Bernardino, eighth; Riverside, ninth; Santa Barbara, 10th; and Ventura, 11.

These high case numbers reflect a staggering number of infections. Taken together, Southern California’s seven counties have recorded 2.1 million new coronavirus cases over the past three and a half months — 1.2 million of them in LA County alone.

When asked about the Times’ analysis Thursday, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the findings came as no surprise.

“I don’t think that when the Omicron surge started, we knew how contagious this new variant was,” she said. “And I think in a community our size with as much industry as we have, we’re going to be hit really, really hard.”

The massive caseload was fueled by testing in Southern California — the most per capita of any region, the Times analysis showed. However, experts have long noted that official infection numbers are likely to be incomplete, as some people may never be screened or their results shared with public health officials. This problem is exacerbated by the availability of home tests, which were widely used during the Omicron surge but are not reliably reported.

Regardless of the actual number, the sheer magnitude of the cases has had a devastating impact across the region. More than 7,500 Southern Californians died from COVID-19 — a rate of 32.2 per 100,000 residents from Dec. 1 to March 14.

The gap in death rates between Southern California and the other four states, while still the worst in the state, is not as wide as the case rates. Both the San Joaquin Valley (just under 32.2 per 100,000) and Northern California (31.7 per 100,000) had only slightly different death rates. This is despite the fact that their surge failure rates are lower (27% and 52%, respectively) than Southern California.

These regions have routinely been the least vaccinated in the state. Nearly 53% of Northern California residents and 55% of San Joaquin Valley residents are fully vaccinated, compared to about 64% in the Sacramento metropolitan area, 69% in Southern California, and 80% in the Bay Area.

Uptake of booster vaccines was also much slower in these regions. The proportion of sponsored residents is 22% in the San Joaquin Valley, 26% in Northern California, 33% in Southern California, 34% in Greater Sacramento, and nearly 50% in the Bay Area.

The Bay Area was best protected against serious health consequences during the Omicron wave. Death and hospitalization rates were the lowest of any region.

Despite being home to nearly twice as many people, the Bay Area reported fewer COVID-19 deaths than the San Joaquin Valley over the analysis period: 1,218 versus 1,470.

“We know that because of our very high vaccination coverage, our relatively high booster rates combined with the fact that Omicron wasn’t as biologically virulent as some of our earlier variants, our deaths weren’t nearly as proportional to case rates as they were.” were in January 2021. Thankfully, that’s the case,” said San Francisco health director Dr. Grant Colfax, to the city’s health commissioners this week.

But low vaccination rates are only one factor in the spread of the coronavirus. Health experts have regularly said that socioeconomic elements – such as the proportion of residents living in overcrowded apartments or having to physically leave the home to work on the front lines – can increase the risk of transmission.

Residents in unhealthier areas, like near highways with dirtier air, may also be more likely to suffer from respiratory illnesses, putting them at greater risk. More rural or impoverished areas lack the same healthcare resources as more affluent communities, making it difficult to treat chronic conditions or treat emerging diseases.

In LA County, all of these societal ills have played a role during the pandemic, Ferrer said.

“We have some of the tightest neighborhoods in the country,” she said. “We also have many people, extraordinarily large numbers of people, living in communities that are both underfunded and living at or below the poverty line themselves – again making it very difficult for people to have the resources to do it may need to protect themselves. We are also an industrial country. We have a lot of heavy industry. We have a lot of manufacturing industry. We have ports.”

That adds up to many local residents who had to continue working on site even during the flooding.

“Nothing was closed here for most of the Omicron period,” Ferrer said. “It had its benefits, kept us on the road to recovery, but also created a lot of exposure for people working in all of these essential services that have been open throughout the pandemic.”

But officials also say vaccines have clear benefits. While case, hospitalization, and death rates rose for both vaccinated and unvaccinated Californians during the Omicron surge, the increases for unvaccinated residents have been particularly large, and their relative risks remain higher even as the recent wave subsides, according to government data demonstrate.

According to the latest available figuresunvaccinated Californians were five times more likely to get COVID-19, seven times more likely to be hospitalized and almost 15 times more likely to die from the disease than those who were fully vaccinated and boosted.

While precautionary measures like avoiding crowded situations or wearing masks indoors offer added protection, many health officials are increasingly comfortable with those who’ve all received their shots resuming pre-pandemic normalcy.

This reasoning is rooted in both science and sociology. Transmission has declined since the peak of Omicron, and while the protection vaccines offer diminishes over time, evidence suggests vaccinations continue to offer high levels of protection against serious diseases. There are plenty of trials and more treatments than ever before – although these are a little harder to come by.

There’s also the simple truth that after two years marked by at times severe restrictions, many residents are eager for a taste of life circa 2019.

While it’s important to keep an eye on emerging trends elsewhere and doing everything possible to prepare for potential new surges at home, officials think it makes sense to change the requirements and recommendations as conditions allow.

“People who are vaccinated and kept up-to-date are generally very well protected from serious diseases, and now we also have treatments, we have tests, we have other tools that help us to be able to live with COVID,” Dr. Leana Wen, a professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, to the Coronavirus Select Subcommittee. “And so it’s possible for the majority of Americans to go back to pre-pandemic normalcy — not because the pandemic is over, but while we’re having this relative lull with a reduced number of cases, I believe it’s important for us people.” to urge her to resume her life.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-18/omicron-deaths-cases-hit-southern-california-hardest-in-state Omicron deaths, cases hit southern California hardest in state

Dais Johnston

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