Angelenos are back on the move.
LA’s freeways are bustling, the seats at concerts and sports events are full, friends are meeting at restaurants and families are gathering together for special occasions —- it appears life is “back to normal” and we are free to do as we wish.
However, the numbers of new COVID-19 cases say otherwise, no matter how much people want the pandemic to be in our rearview mirror.
Since June 4, there have been 14,394 new positive cases and 15 new deaths—transmission remains high in LA County.
The increase in cases has meant that more people have been admitted to hospitals. LA County Public Health reports over the last seven days, the average number of COVID-positive patients per day in LA County hospitals was 515, an increase of 118% from one month ago when the average number of COVID-positive patients per day was 236.
The rise of Covid-19 cases has public health officials concerned and if the numbers continue to increase, indoor mask mandates may be reimposed.
Masking Is A Good Defense
LA County public health officials would like residents to consider masking voluntarily, as an “essential safety measure,” that can offer protection from Omicron sub-lineages, a new highly infectious strain of the virus.
In a statement recently released from the county Public Health Department, recent studies called attention to the strong benefits of wearing a mask:
“During this period of significantly elevated case rates, fueled by the proliferation of new highly infectious strains of the virus that evade some of the vaccine protection against transmission, masking indoors provides strong protection against transmission of COVID-19. There is an impressive body of reputable research showing how masking reduces the risk for individuals and slows viral transmission in the community.”
“Two recent studies highlight the effectiveness of masking. The first study looked at masking by people in California during most of 2021. They found the odds of testing positive were 56% lower for people who reported always wearing a mask in indoor public settings compared to those who reported never wearing a mask in those settings. Moreover, the odds of testing positive were 83% lower for people who reported wearing a respirator (like an N95 or KN95) compared to people who reported never wearing a mask.”
At Home, Testing Is Urged
One key way to stop the spread of the virus is to home test before going to indoor or large gatherings. This precautionary recommendation from LA County Public Health applies to everyone, those who are vaccinated and those who are not, whether you are experiencing symptoms or not.
People can incorrectly believe that because they don’t have major symptoms, they can’t spread the virus. Public health officials say it’s essential that residents home test if they believe they have been exposed to someone who has had a known case of Covid-19 before and after they attend indoor gatherings, and if they are traveling.
Testing isn’t only important for the person being tested, it’s essential for those who they may come in contact with including those who are most at risk — children who cannot get vaccinated yet, people who are immunocompromised, older adults, those at risk of severe disease, and those who aren’t up to date on their vaccines.
“The continued high rate of transmission in the county is concerning, particularly for those at elevated risk. Using all the tools at hand to lower the risk of transmission remains the best approach for enjoying the summer,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Ph.D., MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health.
While there are other illnesses that cause similar symptoms as COVID, Ferrer and other public health officials recommend that anyone with even mild illness — given the high case rates — should test themselves to be sure they are not sick with COVID and capable of infecting others.
They point out that since some infected individuals experience little or no illness, testing before indoor gatherings is another sensible step that can reduce the chance of gatherings turning into super-spreader events. Without testing, people can unknowingly spread the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) strongly encourages anyone who self-tests by using a home test to report their results to their healthcare provider who can recommend proper care. You can also report your case directly to LA County public health.
If you test positive you should isolate yourself to protect others. Home tests or “over-the-counter tests” detect current infection. Self-tests don’t detect antibodies that would indicate a previous infection and they don’t measure your level of immunity from COVID-19.
Reporting your “Positive COVID-19” test directly to L.A. County public health or to your doctor is also essential for public health officials to keep accurate numbers of current cases.
The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol called the DPH Covid Information line and found the wait time was minimal and helpful.
“If you are calling us to report a positive result, we transfer you to one of our nurses who take down your information so that we can handle ‘contact tracing.’ We ask you if you’ve been in contact with anyone else, if you’ve attended any events and if you would like help in contacting them so that they can get tested and suggest quarantining,” said the COVID information operator.
“We also offer to help you find resources for food and other needs especially if you need to take time off of work. Our job is to contain the spread. We ask that doctors report a positive case and we encourage you to call us directly. Like everyone else we want things to go back to normal,” she said.
Home Tests Can Be Ordered For Free
A third round of at-home tests can be ordered at no charge from the federal government at www.covidtests.gov. Residents who have health insurance can receive eight free at-home tests each month for each insured member in their household. And many community organizations are distributing free test kits to individuals with limited resources.
Free OTC testing kits can be picked up at all Department of Public Health vaccination sites.
There are several FDA-approved rapid tests that are available over-the-counter (OTC) for self-testing at home, at a business, or at other community settings. Most are antigen tests that provide results in a few minutes, as opposed to laboratory-based tests that may take several days to process.
“Over-the-counter tests are available for free from the federal government, health plans, and at many community sites serving residents with limited means. We encourage everyone to take advantage of these quick and easy tests.” Ferrer said.
Individuals should talk with their doctor to make sure they understand what their viral test result means and any next steps. Those without easy access to a health care provider, and who have questions about their test result and what to do next, can call the DPH COVID-19 information line at (833) 540-0473, seven days a week.
A wide range of data and dashboards on COVID-19 from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health are available on the Public Health website at http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov.