Omicron variant-driven COVID-19 infections declined last week, bringing strong evidence that the county may turn the corner against the pandemic.
There were 2,006 new infections, according to data released Wednesday by the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency.
In the week ending February 8, Tulare County experienced 2,591 new weekly infections from more than 8,000 new infections per week in mid-January. The county experienced a record of just over 22,000 new infections in January. The previous monthly peak for new COVID-19 infections was 12,111 in January 2021.
While the decline in new infections appears to have plateaued, new coronavirus-related deaths fell from the previous week. The county registered 11 new deaths, ending the week of February 15th. The previous week, 25 people died of COVID-19-related causes.
The county’s new cases dropped to 55 daily infections per. 100,000 people from just over 200 at the end of January. The positivity rates for testing fell to 14% from 32% at the end of January.
As of Tuesday, Kaweah Health treated 88 COVID-19 patients, 14 of them in the intensive care unit. Nationwide, 121 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. In January 2021, Kaweah Health had a record of 169 COVID-19 patients.
Across California, the average positive rate of coronavirus testing in California has dropped to 5.7%, the lowest it has been since mid-December. That was shortly before the rapidly spreading omicron variant ignited the winter’s COVID-19 rise.
The shift marks a 3.2% drop from the previous seven-day positivity rate, indicating the percentage of total tests that return every day across the country. Most Bay Area counties appear to be following a similar path, although the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths, lagging pandemic indicators, appears to have leveled off in the region. California’s average positive test rate hit a pandemic high of 22.6% on January 9th. It reached the bottom of 0.07% in the first week of June, before the rise of the delta variant.
At the national level, President Joe Biden’s coronavirus response team on Wednesday announced declining cases, rising vaccination rates and the development of therapeutic agents to reduce serious outcomes with COVID-19.
Officials are already looking forward to the next phase of the pandemic, coordinator Jeff Zients said during a Wednesday briefing.
“As a result of all these advances and the tools we all have, we are moving towards a time when COVID is not a crisis but is something we can protect against and address,” he said. “The president and our COVID team are actively planning for this future.”
As many states move to facilitate indoor mask mandates for vaccinated people, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that they also plan to update the agency’s federal recommendations.
“We look at all of our guidance based not only on where we are right now in the pandemic, but also on the tools we now have available – such as vaccines, boosters, tests and treatments – and our latest understanding of the disease,” he said. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, at a White House briefing. “We want to give people a break from things like wearing a mask when these measurements are better and then have the ability to reach out to them again if things are getting worse. “
Even with measurements falling nationwide, the number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States will reach about 968,000 by March 12 and may peak at 1 million by the end of the month, according to forecast models used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The ensemble model, which was updated on Wednesday, shows that the number of deaths is likely to increase in at least 10 states over the next two weeks compared to the previous two weeks. California’s cumulative pandemic death toll could hit 90,000 in the same period.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, 99,292 Tulare County residents have been infected with COVID-19, and 1,279 people have died from complications of the virus.
Wire reports contributed to this story.
James Ward is a journalist for the USA TODAY Network.