The rapid decline in newly reported cases of COVID-19 has slowed in recent weeks. That doesn’t necessarily mean the state is heading for the dark winter days again, as deaths skyrocketed and patients filled hospitals to the point where ambulances had to wait in line around the block to pick up coronavirus patients .
For most of January and all of February, California’s coronavirus curve steadily flattened out as the state got out of the wave. But for a few days over the past week, the state’s rolling average positivity rate for seven days was higher than the two-week average for the first time since Jan. 11.
Normally, the 7-day positivity rate rising higher than the 14-day rate would indicate an upward trend. Not necessarily this time around: A data dump from LA may have skewed the numbers as Los Angeles County logged 3,678 cases in one day that were previously reported as “likely”.
Even so, health experts say the declining cases in California have likely leveled off.
“This is a plateau,” said George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco.
But unlike other lulls during the pandemic, the state now has three vaccines to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Adult Californians over the age of 65 received nearly half of the more than 12 million shots the state has administered to date.
This is a big deal as seniors are much more likely to get the virus. Almost 3 out of 4 Californians who died during the pandemic were over 65 years of age.
Vaccinating the most vulnerable Californians means the number of newly reported cases is nowhere near as important as it was a month ago.
“Once we find ourselves in a situation where the people who get sick are unlikely to get very sick – that is, they are the citizens with the lowest risk – the number of COVID cases will not get that way anymore Worrying, “said Stanford epidemiologist Steven Goodman. He says the top numbers people need to watch out for are hospital stays and deaths.
“We’ve seen a very sharp drop in the number of hospital patients over the past four to six weeks,” he said, calling the trend “very encouraging” and attributing it in part to the government’s vaccination campaign.
“It looks like the vaccination strategy could have the desired effect of protecting those who are most likely to burden the health system and get very sick and die,” he said. “And we need to do exactly what we did with immunization – hopefully lower the age, comorbidity and underlying disease spectrum, and get as much protection as possible.”
About a third of adult Californians between the ages of 18 and 49 received a shot. As of Monday, millions of Californians with health problems and disabilities began making appointments.
“California has quite a sizable level of immunity from either naturally acquired or vaccine-acquired immunity,” Rutherford said, adding that he had seen no evidence, at least in Northern California, that the more infectious British variant (B.1.1.7) has deep roots in the population.
Will the coronavirus variant spread through the community fast enough to fuel the fourth surge? Maybe if it or some other more infectious mutant seeds quickly.
“But it’s not inevitable,” said Rutherford. “Spring is coming, people will be more outside, and there is so much immunity in the population, much more than ever when we came down from previous peaks.”
The number of cases in the state remains well below the peak of the pandemic. Over the past week, an average of around 3,300 new cases were registered every day. Similarly, both hospital stays and deaths from the virus are declining.
– Kevin Stark