Amid lingering concerns about a possible post-holiday coronavirus surge, Lancaster, Palmdale, Santa Clarita, Studio City and Venice are among the latest coronavirus hotspots, officials said Thursday (November 18). But the reasons why they remained unclear to investigators. Although there was a common theme: the disease seemed to circulate most among young adults.
From Oct. 24 to Nov. 6, LA County public health officials identified 10 cities in the region with the highest case incidence, LA County Public Director Barbara Ferrer reported Thursday.
Topping the list were Lancaster, with a 14-day case rate of 338 per 100,000 people, Palmdale at 331 per 100,000 and Studio City at 301 per 100,000, according to metrics Ferrer shared with reporters.
The measurements show a range of cities and neighborhoods that don’t necessarily fit a common pattern, Ferrer said. On the one hand, there’s Lancaster, where vaccination rates are relatively low — at 58%. But on the other hand, there’s Studio City and Santa Clarita, where vaccination and testing rates are much higher. Studio City, for example, has a 79% vaccination rate.
The differences are important in the context of the widespread push for more vaccinations, Ferrer said, which is why public health officials are studying it.
Ferrer noted that the numbers don’t mean vaccinations aren’t life-saving. In fact, Ferrer pointed out that “you have a much higher risk of getting infected, ending up in the hospital, and tragically dying. So it’s crystal clear and hasn’t really changed for months now. At the individual level, this remains true.
But Ferrer added that something else could be happening in communities that investigators don’t yet fully understand.
“I was kind of bummed for us that we couldn’t pull away from that and say, ‘yes, that’s crystal clear. Those communities in the top 10 with recent high case rates are communities with low vaccination rates… “But that’s not true here,” Ferrer said.
In some cases, more people may not have been infected in the past and are not vaccinated. But officials were looking for more data. But what is true, Ferrer noted, is the relative youth of people who catch the disease in those top 10 communities.
“The one thing that stood out was that the average age was very low in all of these communities,” Ferrer said. “I mean, it’s basically – in the communities with the highest rates – it’s a pandemic that’s actually being fueled by young people. When the median age is between 26 and 36 years, we know that this social mixing and on the construction sites contributes to it.
The list was a red flag entering what is the second holiday season of the COVID-19 era.
With the risk still very high across the county, health officials remain concerned about the potential for surges after Thanksgiving Day.
After dropping quite dramatically from August to mid-October, hospitalizations due to the disease appear to have leveled off as of late. The countywide average daily case rate fell from an average daily case rate of 8 cases per 100,000 to 9 cases per 100,000 this week.
The 81 cases per 100,000 per week kept the county at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “substantial transmission” level for weeks.
The county also confirmed 26 more deaths on Thursday, adding to the 26,849 who have died here from the disease since February 2020. The county also confirmed 1,088 more cases, adding to the total of 1,515,324 official cases since the last year.
Officials were encouraged by the lack of a surge now that it is two weeks away from Halloween – which Ferrer attributed to more vaccinations of young people and families just making good choices, layering protections such as the masking and social distancing where possible.
“We hope that a similar layering of protections will allow us to come together without creating a risk of increased transmission,” Ferrer said, referring to the upcoming holidays.
But she and other public health officials are taking note of national — like Colorado — and international — like Europe — regions where case rates are rising and hospital rooms are filling up again.
A spike in cases in the Upper Midwest prompted some schools in Michigan to keep students home before Thanksgiving and the military sent medical teams to Minnesota to relieve hospital staff overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
The deteriorating outlook in the Midwest comes as booster shots are made available to everyone in an increasing number of locations. Massachusetts and Utah became the latest to say anyone 18 or older can roll up their sleeve for a recall, and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee is meeting on Friday to discuss expanding recalls .
Cold weather states dominate the new wave of cases over the past seven days, including New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin, according to federal data. But the Southwest also had trouble spots, with more than 90% of inpatient hospital beds occupied in Arizona.
“I think some situations might be a little different,” Ferrer said, referring to LA County. “We’ve invested a lot of support in our schools, … our schools are doing really, really well at avoiding being places where there’s a lot of transmission. But I think with travel, there are a lot of risks. We urge people who travel to only travel if fully immunized.
“It’s our second Thanksgiving during the pandemic and we would like to avoid the upside. We have to handle our Thanksgiving very carefully, so that we can have a good winter holiday as well.