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Health and Medicine

California braces for latest COVID surge

Ray Chavez
Bay Area News Group
A commuter with a face masks on exit and board a train at MacArthur BART station in Oakland, Calif. on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is extending the requirement for planes, trains, buses and boats two more weeks to monitor the BA.2 omicron subvariant, said Wednesday.

COVID-19 cases are spiking to the highest level in several months, and those numbers are almost certainly an undercount.

“It’s increasingly likely most of us will have a date with COVID if we haven’t yet.”

Last week’s assessment from Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s public health officer, took on newfound significance Tuesday, when the California Department of Public Health reported that the state’s seven-day COVID test positivity rate had reached 5% for the first time since February, at the tail end of the omicron surge that sickened wide swaths of the workforce.

  • Experts say the actual positivity rate is almost certainly much higher, given that many Californians self-test at home and don’t report the results, while other infected residents may not test at all.

Also Tuesday, the widely respected Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center announced that the United States has officially surpassed 1 million reported COVID-19 deaths — though the university noted “the number of fatalities is likely much higher.”

More than 90,000 Californians have died of COVID, according to state data — though the Golden State’s death rate has remained fairly stable and low in recent months. And while CalMatters’ tracker shows that statewide hospitalization rates are beginning to tick back up, just 1,527 COVID-positive patients were in the hospital on Monday — a far cry from the nearly 12,900 in late January at the peak of the omicron wave.

Nevertheless, a growing group of local public health officials — including more than a dozen in the Bay Area and Southern California — are urging residents to mask up in public places and avoid nonessential indoor gatherings or move them outdoors. One small Monterey school district reinstated its indoor mask mandate. And Apple indefinitely postponed its plans to require employees to return to the office three days a week starting next Monday.

The rise in cases — which experts say appears to be driven by a mix of highly contagious omicron subvariants; increased testing; relaxed restrictions; and waning immunity from vaccination, boosters or prior infection — could test Gov. Gavin Newsom’s long-term plan for dealing with COVID, with the state’s primary election right around the corner.

And it could also pose problems for California’s coronavirus-battered economy, which is still struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels.

  • In the Bay Area, the COVID surge is colliding with a persistent worker shortage, forcing many restaurants to temporarily shut down, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
  • Stella Dennig, co-owner of Oakland’s DAYTRIP restaurant: “In the end, it’s a burden on restaurant workers whose incomes obviously rely on staying open … and us as restaurant owners, who end up either covering for multiple roles every night, or stressing about the business tanking. It’s a lose-lose.”
  • Meanwhile, as kids return to in-person learning — lowering the demand for online classes — unvaccinated Los Angeles Unified educators who have been teaching online could lose their jobs if they don’t get inoculated, the Los Angeles Daily News reports. The news comes as California grapples with a widespread teacher and substitute teacher shortage.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,757,871 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day) and 90,219 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 75,489,752 vaccine doses, and 75.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.