17 December 2021 Blog: Declining Case Rates in Los Angeles County


You wouldn’t know it from the headlines, but COVID-19 case rates declined in Los Angeles County week over week.  Here are some sample headlines:

“LA County Tightens Rules for Mega-Events Amid Rising COVID Numbers” (NBC Los Angeles)

“Omicron cases jump in L.A. County as experts warn of rapid spread” (LA Times)

“LA County moves back into ‘high transmission’ category as COVID cases increase” (ABC 7 Los Angeles)

The headlines don’t fit with the actual incidence of cases in the County, however, which decreased from 14.5 new daily cases per 100,000 population for the week ending 12/7/2021 to 12.6 new daily cases per 100,000 population.

Prevalence estimates (number of active cases) remains low at 1 COVID case per 1000 population (0.1 per 100). A caveat being that prevalence is a lagging indicator by about two weeks.

Similarly, headlines express concerns about increasing hospitalizations:

“COVID-19 Hospitalizations Continue an Unsettling Climb in LA County” (NBC Los Angeles)

“Los Angeles Omicron Cases Have Tripled In One Week, Though Count Still Very Low: Hospitalizations Soaring: (Deadline)

But the graph of hospitalizations (from LA County Health Department Dashboard) hardly suggests “soaring” hospitalizations. [Note: there is no way to change the scale on the graph, and while there is some increase through December it falls far short of Delta’s late summer hospitalization peak.

Omicron is nothing to trifle with, should preliminary reports be accurate. Some estimates suggest the variant is far more infectious than even delta. However, the general consensus appears to be that infections – even among the unvaccinated – are less severe. Infections among the vaccinated may even largely be minimal. As a result, ‘soaring’ hospitalizations (especially among communities that have high vaccination rates would be an unexpected feature of an Omicron outbreak.

Realizing that there are delays in reporting, it is strange to see headlines that are out of touch with LA County Health Department reported and published data. While Omicron poses a very real risk – and one that is augmented by traveling and gathering during the holiday season – there is not yet evidence that it is approaching the magnitude of the delta variant, much less the massive surge we experienced this time last year.

The advice remains the same – mask up, get vaccinated (or boosted), wash your hands and get tested for any concerns, symptoms or contact with anybody who is ill. Rapid antigen tests are widely available and easily self-administered. Keep some extras to test yourself, or family members – they are an invaluable resource.

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