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Latest: Omicron surge rips across region swelling area hospitals

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

In our year-end edition, the COURIER expressed hope that high vaccination rates in Los Angeles County would somehow blunt the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and that the region would avoid the explosion of new cases seen in other areas. But, as usual, the virus had other plans.

On December 24, the final coronavirus update of 2021, we reported a rapid increase in daily COVID-19 cases doubling in one day to roughly 6,500. Still, this case count was far below the numbers reported last winter. Now the numbers far exceed last year’s surge as public health identified 211,589 cases over the last two weeks alone, recording more than 20,000 cases per day, every day, over the last week for a cumulative total of 1,806,828 cases across all areas of L.A. County.

The county’s positivity rate, which is a good gauge of the local outbreak, jumped from 4.5% in late December to 22.4% on Wednesday. This means one in five people who get tested receive a positive result and the county says that each infected person spreads the virus to 1.9 other people, which is a very high transmission rate.

“L.A. County continues to urge residents to curtail higher-risk activities as large numbers of residents are testing positive for COVID-19. Indoor activities where individuals are unmasked for long periods of time, as well as crowded outdoor events, increase the risk that infected individuals will transmit both Omicron and Delta variants to others,” the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement.

On January 3 there were 1,018,935 new cases reported nationwide, vastly eclipsing the previous record of 300,777 cases on January 8, 2021. The seven-day national average of new cases is 584,000, according to the Washington Post.

Claremont is not immune to the current surge, with the county reporting 628 new infections in the city over the past two weeks, or 16% of our cumulative total of 3,860 cases. Sadly, one more city resident has died bringing the total to 71.

In response to the rise in new cases, the City of  Claremont elected to return to virtual public meetings. The Claremont City Council held its first and only hybrid meeting with residents participating both in person and via the internet on Tuesday December 12, but now will return to Zoom-only access.

“Due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County, and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the City will return to virtual public meetings until further notice,” the city said in a statement.

COURIER reporter and columnist Mick Rhodes had a journalist’s-eye view of the recent Omicron surge. Rhodes started feeling symptoms on December 26, and attempted to get tested at Kaiser’s Fontana location, but the lines at the emergency room snaked out the door and into the parking lot.

“It was kind of apocalyptic,” Rhodes said. “We gave up and just went home and into quarantine.”

Rhodes, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, tested positive with a breakthrough case on December 28 at the same location, waiting more than four hours in a drive-through line of hundreds of cars.

The first five days were awful, he said.

“It was like the worst flu or cold you’ve ever had, but not to the point of needing to go to the hospital, thank goodness.”

After day five, the hacking cough, sore throat, aches, and periodic fevers subsided. On day nine he reported almost all symptoms had abated, save the persistent cough and minor sore throat.

“I’m just so grateful to have been vaccinated and boosted. I’m 58, and I’ve had unvaccinated friends my age die from this,” he said.

Hospitalizations are on the rise, which raises the concern that medical facilities and staff my soon be overwhelmed, but so far the case load is manageable. However, Southern California has the worst per capita, COVID-19 hospitalization rate of any area in the state, with 21 people per 100,000 residents currently hospitalized.

On Wednesday public health reported 2,240 people with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized, up from 1,994 on Sunday. However, in contrast to last winter’s surge when nearly every patient was battling the coronavirus, a growing number are admitted for other ailments and learn they are positive after being examined.

At Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center about 20% of newly admitted patients have received an incidental diagnosis of COVID-19, meaning they were admitted for a condition not related to the virus, according to a statement from the hospital.

“A majority of these cases were pregnant patients admitted to our labor and delivery unit who then tested positive for COVID-19,” the statement read.

Like many other area hospitals, Pomona Valley has experienced a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the weeks following the holidays, however the staff continues to effectively manage bed capacity, including in the intensive care unit.

“PVHMC has a surge plan in place to provide safe, high-quality care to all patients requiring treatment in our intensive care units, as well as those in need of emergent and specialty care, including trauma, chronic medical conditions, maternal and neonatal care and inpatient needs,” a hospital official said. “The hospital remains a safe place to seek care. Do not delay emergency care due to fear of contracting COVID-19 in a healthcare setting. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, including emergency warning signs for COVID-19, such as trouble breathing or chest pain, seek immediate emergency medical care.”

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Omicron is less deadly than previous waves, perhaps because of widespread vaccination and the natural immunity that develops in people who have been sick and recover.

The New York Times reports that Omicron is so contagious that it will infect a meaningful share of the population, increasing the amount of COVID immunity and helping defang the virus.

For the time being the death rate in L.A. County remains steady at about 20 per day, however, mortality is a trailing indicator because it can take weeks to die from COVID-19.

During the last 100 years, pandemics have either been effectively eliminated with vaccines, such as polio, or have become endemic, like the Spanish flu. With the current high number of vaccine holdouts in the country, and COVID’s frequent mutations, it’s unlikely that we will reach herd immunity anytime soon. So the likely scenario, according to multiple sources, is that a less deadly COVID will become part of everyday life.

The demand for testing has been on the rise and many people are reporting difficulty finding home COVID-19 tests kits. On Tuesday, Hendricks Pharmacy in the Village had the home tests in stock but they were selling quickly.

If you have COVID-related symptoms or have had close contact with someone who tested positive it’s crucial that you get tested. The closest L.A. County testing site is at Gate 17 at the Pomona Fairplex but appointments are required. To make an appointment visit the county’s testing portal.

 

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