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California COVID cases rise again after record lows in deaths in spring – Santa Cruz Sentinel

FILE – Kindergarten children wear masks as they listen to their teacher at Washington Elementary School, Jan. 12, 2022, in Lynwood, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Once again, people appear to be falling ill with COVID-19. Data shows that positivity rates have increased significantly in individual states over the past few weeks.

Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, has noticed the upward trend both in anecdotes among his friends and colleagues and in the data. But the good news?

“It's not nearly as high as it was in the winter, it's not even as high as it was a year ago at this time,” he said. Levels for the virus have been lower so far in 2024 than in 2023, he said. And deaths hit record lows in California this spring, including the first day in over four years with no COVID deaths in the state.

While health departments no longer publish the number of daily COVID cases detected, as they did at the height of the pandemic, local authorities continue to track COVID levels in wastewater, which can be an early warning system for spikes and lulls in the virus. The state health department also continues to track what share of people who test for the virus statewide are positive. Both metrics have shown an increase in recent weeks as new variants break through and a slow COVID spring has become a full-blown summer surge.

The Golden State's positivity rate had been declining to around 2% for most of April, but began to rise again in May. On May 1, the positivity rate was 2.1%, and by June 1, it had reached over 4%. This week's update, released Friday, shows positivity continuing to rise, up nearly two percentage points to 6.4% on June 10.

Swartzberg acknowledged that, despite rising rates, we are in a much better position than in previous years. Still, he finds it “very concerning” that more seniors and vulnerable people are not receiving the updated vaccinations introduced last fall and the recommended booster shots.

“Fifty-five percent of the population over 65 who are actually at significant risk for poor outcomes are not taking advantage of the opportunity to most likely prevent those poor outcomes,” he said.

This is consistent with what Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a medical professor specializing in infectious diseases at UC San Francisco, recently observed at the hospital compared to previous increases.

“In 2020, we would have been talking about intensive care beds. In 2022, we would have been talking about hospitalizations. Now, in 2024, we are talking about urgent care, emergency room visits and sick people at home,” he said.

And the people still hospitalized with COVID? “They're elderly or immunocompromised, and in my own experience, not a single one of them has had the latest shot,” Chin-Hong noted. “And it's not that they're anti-vaxxers or anything. They're just more comfortable now, and that's my concern.”

Anna Harden

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