Dr Bretsky

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Dissecting Headlines

Percentages make great headlines, like this one from Fox News Los Angeles, blaring “COVID cases in LA spiked 62% in the last week” (link: https://www.foxla.com/news/covid-cases-in-la-county-spiked-62-in-the-last-week), but readers should demand additional information. As Hans Rosling points out in “Factfulness”, when you see one number you should always ask for another.

The headline, in fact, simply isn’t true. Cases are up over the past week, from 10.47 new daily cases per 100,000 for the week ending 4/19 to 14.41 cases/100,000 for the week ending 4/26.  Reading further in the article, it notes that “the county averaged 1,553 new COVID cases per day over the past seven day, up from 960 two weeks ago – an increase of just over 61%.

Oh, so now we are talking about the last two weeks then?  62% increase from two weeks ago.  Well, that’s still not true but they are getting closer. There were 9.27 new daily cases per 100,000 population for the week ending 4/12 and the most recent rate does represent a 55% increase from such. In fact, our case rate has nearly tripled since the end of March.

Would it surprise you to learn though that our current case rate in 2022 is the highest of any in the three years we have been tracking COVID-19 cases?  I was a bit surprised by that to be honest, but it’s true (Figure 1 below). 2022 is in orange with 2021 in red and 2020 in blue

I found this a bit disheartening until I looked at mortality rates due to COVID-19 over the same timeframe (Figure 2 below). This same final week in April of 2020, the County suffered 0.43 deaths daily per 100,000 population due to SARS-CoV-2 infection. In 2021 that rate was 0.07 and currently is 0.01 deaths per day per 100,000 population.

 The Los Angeles County Health Department does not publish the raw data for hospitalizations, so this analysis cannot be performed independently. They do produce a graph of the raw numbers on their Dashboard (link: http://dashboard.publichealth.lacounty.gov/covid19_surveillance_dashboard/)

It will be helpful, moving forward, for our state and local health departments to begin to include additional metrics to help gauge the effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection regionally. Hospitalization and ICU numbers should be more readily available as should prescriptions of Paxlovid and Evusheld. Currently, case numbers are a significant underestimate as, at least in my practice, most positive cases are identified via home testing which is not reportable to our Health Department. School based testing may be one useful metric – except during the summer and breaks. The fiscal utility of continuing to perform weekly PCR testing on this population needs to be considered as well for the 2022/2023 school year.

But, overall, the fact that mortality rates are reaching historic lows despite rising case rates is encouraging indeed.

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