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COVID Levels Remain Low Despite Expected Rise


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Santa Monica College
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Santa Monica, CA 90405
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By Jorge Casuso

January 2, 2024 -- The spread of a more contagious COVID variant and lower than expected vaccination rates have failed to result in a winter surge of the coronavirus, according to LA County Public Health data.

Despite a rise in reported COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the levels remain "considerably below last winter's peak," LA County health officials said Thursday.

In a County with a population of 10.3 million, there was a reported daily average of 621 COVID-19 cases last week, up from 495 the previous week, although the results of home tests are not included, the data show.

Hospitalizations -- considered a key indicator of the spread and severity of the virus -- remained at a low level, increasing from 604 to 686, while virus-related deaths rose from a daily average of 2 to 6 in December.

County Health officials attribute "at least part" of the increase in transmission to new COVID-19 strains, including JN.1, which last month accounted for 1 in 5 cases reported in the County.

"Experts speculate that this may be due to an evolution on the spike protein which gives the new strain greater ability to evade immunity, and therefore, the potential to spread more easily," Health officials said.

"JN.1 does not, however, appear to be resulting in more severe cases of COVID-19," they added.

The new strain -- which now accounts for nearly one-third of the cases nationwide -- shares many of the symptoms of the flu, cold or respiratory infection, experts said.

They include cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, fever, congestion, runny nose, fatigue and mild diarrhea.

Despite a push by County Health officials, vaccination rates remain low, reflecting a nationwide trend ("High Hopes, Low Turnout for COVID Booster," October 24, 2023).

While 8.4 million LA County residents, or 82 percent, have been vaccinated, only 1.01 million have taken the updated vaccine released in mid-September.

The rate is much higher in Santa Monica, where 19,119 residents were up to date with their vaccinations by Christmas Day.

In Santa Monica, there were 281 laboratory confirmed cases reported between November 30 and December 28, or an average 70 cases per week, up from an average of 40 over the previous 14 weeks.

There were no virus-related deaths reported last month in the city of some 93,000, after four deaths were reported from mid-August to November 30.

That brings the total number of cases in the city of some 93,000 to 27,742 since the first virus case was confirmed on March 16, 2020, according to County data. There have been 309 COVID-related deaths.

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