Ventura County’s COVID-19 infection rates are rising again in a climb likely brought on by Thanksgiving rallies, public health officials said Tuesday.
The rate of infections slowed sharply before the holidays but peaked this week, rising to an average of 8.4 cases per day per 100,000 people, according to state health data released Tuesday. The increase means the county’s transmission rate — considered “moderate” just a week ago — has jumped back to “substantial,” as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The infection rate is calculated with a delay of seven days. The timing indicates the spike likely stems from Thanksgiving celebrations, said Rigoberto Vargas, director of the Ventura County Public Health Department. He said unvaccinated people are infected about 20 times faster than vaccinated people.
“We expect both rates to increase as a result of rallies and the holiday weekend,” Vargas said at a meeting of the provincial board of supervisors.
The number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 across the province is also increasing, but remains well below previous peaks, with 45 COVID patients receiving care on Monday.
Related:Addressing COVID-19 fears door-to-door, from ommicron to vaccine side effects
Rising statistics mean the county’s mandate to require masks in indoor public places could last through January. County health official Robert Levin has said he will not lift the order until a series of benchmarks are met, including cutting the number of cases from no more than 7 infections per day per 100,000 people. The rate should be maintained for at least three weeks.
Supervisor Kelly Long pointed out that the current surge is nowhere near the surge that flooded hospitals with COVID-19 patients a year ago. She urged Levin to replace the mandate with a masking recommendation that would allow people to choose whether to hide.
The mandate harms businesses and prevents some of them from reopening, she argued.
“People should have a choice. How do we get companies moving again?” she said.
Levin said vaccinations, social distancing and masking remain the way to control the spread of the disease. He said the mandate may be one of the reasons why the number of cases is not shooting as high as it was a year ago.
“I wouldn’t like to say that because we have little, we can release masking when the masking itself could be responsible for why our numbers are low,” he told Long.
Read more:Omicron COVID-19 variant coming, Ventura County health official warns
The province’s rising transmission still appears to be driven by the delta variant. Officials expect the new ommicron variant to be reported within the county, as it did in Los Angeles County.
Scientists scramble to better understand the variant. Absolute answers have not emerged, but omicron is “very likely” more contagious than other forms of COVID-19, Levin said.
Initial reports from South Africa suggest that diseases associated with the variant may be less severe. The infections largely affected younger people, including children, Levin said.
It’s too early to know if vaccines protect people from ommicron. Levin claimed that the shots are still the best tool.
“The message is, please get vaccinated. Please get your booster,” he said.
Nearly two years after the pandemic, Levin expressed confidence that life will eventually return to close to what it was before COVID-19, but said he doesn’t know how soon that day will come.
“It’s a crystal ball question. When will life go back to normal? I don’t know the answer,” he said.
Tom Kisken covers healthcare and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at [email protected] or 805-437-0255.
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