If the ongoing COVID-19 rise hasn’t yet climbed to the summit of previous surges, it has reached high enough to trigger attention and at least a little anxiety.
Call it surge-like. Here’s what we know about transmission levels, outbreaks and the coming booster shots.
What do the numbers show?
The data reinforces what people across California are discovering via home test kits. Risks are up.
An average of 18% of Ventura County residents who received PCR tests over seven days came up positive, according to California Department of Public Health metrics released Friday. The metric stood at 17% a week ago and 5% on July 1.
Fortunately, hospitalizations remain low with 25 people admitted across Ventura County as of the most recent tally on Sept. 2. County public health officials said the new variants are pushing transmission upward but don’t seem to be causing more severe illness.
They continue to say outdoor gatherings are safer than indoors and suggest masks when people are in higher risk situations. Bigger countywide actions do not appear in the offing.
“At this time, we are not considering any mask mandates,” said Dr. Robert Levin, county health officer.
How much COVID-19 are doctors seeing?
“A ton of it,” answered Dr. Jim Hornstein, a Ventura family doctor. He said very few cases require hospitalization, characterizing the virus as primarily an outpatient condition. He worries about studies linking the virus to an array of health issues, including lung and heart problems long after initial symptoms subside.
“This is a chronic illness,” he said.
Other doctors also reported an increase in patients who test positive for COVID-19 after complaining of symptoms like fever, headaches, aching muscles, congestion and coughing.
Who is getting hit?
Outbreaks have risen at schools, workplaces and residential facilities like long-term care sites. Santa Paula High School officials canceled a Sept. 8 football game against La Caňada after at least 20 football players and cheerleaders tested positive for COVID-19. The outbreak is believed to be confined to the football team and cheerleading squad, said Jeffrey Weinstein, superintendent of the Santa Paula Unified School District.
Other higher-risk sites say they’ve escaped a surge of infections.
“We’re seeing cases here or there,” said Warren Spieker of University Village senior community and the OakView Health Center nursing home and assisted living facility in Thousand Oaks. “We’re not seeing any major outbreaks. We’re still business as usual.”
How sick do you get?
Doctors characterize most of the symptoms as “mild” but note the term means people don’t need hospitalization and does necessary reflect the misery the inflicted feel.
“I haven’t sent anyone to the hospital in a couple of months but I have patients that feel crummy,” said Dr. Uldine Castel, Ventura family physician. “For some people, it’s really bad.”
For others, symptoms as limited as an unusual but moderate headache can bring a positive test.
When are people hospitalized?
Doctors said they look for signs that oxygen levels in the body’s tissues have fallen to potentially dangerous levels in a condition called hypoxia. They also look for signs a person’s condition isn’t improving or extreme symptoms in high-risk patients.
The telltale signs emerge infrequently even in emergency rooms where patients with the most severe symptoms go for treatment.
Will the new booster help?
It should. The updated vaccines targets XBB.1.5, the variant that emerged in the spring. It also appears effective against newer variants including BA.2.86, the Pirola variant that is still rare in the U.S. but has raised concerns about evading vaccines.
When will the shots be available?
Perhaps very soon. A committee that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could vote on the new vaccines on Tuesday, addressing how they should be used and who needs them. The shots could be available at some pharmacies shortly after that.
It may take a little longer at other sites. Ventura County public health officials said the vaccine should be available at doctors’ offices and public health clinics by the end of the month.
What other protection is out there?
School districts, community colleges and universities are sending out messages to students, parents and staff advising people with symptoms to stay home and also making sure masks are available for those who want them.
“If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, it is crucial to take a COVID-19 test. Remember that even if the initial result is negative, it’s important to retest after 48 hours,” Ventura County Community College District officials said in their missive.
In Los Angeles County, public health officials reminded employers in a news release they need to inform people who had close contact with infected employees of their exposure.
Countywide mandates are unlikely, but many doctors are encouraging their patients to wear masks when traveling and in crowded indoor settings like concerts or sporting events.
At Santa Paula Unified High School District, officials have resumed daily health checks at schools, asking students if they have any symptoms.
If outbreaks multiply and transmission accelerates, it’s possible the wellness checks could include temperature readings. Masking requirements are not yet called for but could be considered down the road, Weinstein said.
“We’re monitoring the situation,” he said. “If we need to reinstate certain COVID protocols we are ready to do so.”
Staff writer Isaiah Murtaugh and USA Today contributed to this report.
Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0255.
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