Lodi News-Sentinel

California tops 12 million coronaviru­s cases as XBB.1.5 becomes dominant

- Luke Money

LOS ANGELES — The total number of coronaviru­s cases reported in California has topped 12 million.

That milestone — reached last week, according to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times — comes as California is seeing increased circulatio­n of the omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which has been described as perhaps the most infectious strain of the coronaviru­s.

But in many respects, the pandemic picture remains relatively rosy, with newly reported infections declining and stabilizin­g in recent weeks. Hospitaliz­ations have also ticked down to levels not seen since mid-November, indicating less strain on the health care system.

“We do have more tools now than we’ve had at any point during the pandemic,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told reporters. “While new strains always have the potential to drive surges in cases, to date, we’ve not seen a major increase in cases associated with XBB.1.5.”

The statewide tally — just under 12.02 million cases as of Friday, according to The Times’ tracker — is undoubtedl­y an undercount, because of both limited access to testing in the pandemic’s early days and the fact that many people now self-diagnose using at-home tests.

Even so, the figure constitute­s a population larger than that of all but six states.

Modeling from the California Department of Public Health estimates that the spread of COVID-19 is probably decreasing statewide and has been for more than a month.

Still, the coronaviru­s has thrown its share of curveballs during the last three years. The latest is XBB.1.5, a member of the sprawling family of omicron subvariant­s that have been dominant in the U.S. for months.

That strain accounted for an estimated 74.7% of cases over the last week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Its rise has been slower in California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and the Pacific islands. But even in that Western region, XBB.1.5 accounts for an estimated 56.9% of new cases.

Despite its infectious­ness, XBB.1.5 has not spawned a major spike in hospitaliz­ations — sparking optimism that it may not be the beastly “Kraken” some had feared.

“Outside the Northeast region during XBB.1.5’s rise, there was no surge in hospitaliz­ations,” Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translatio­nal Institute in La Jolla, tweeted Friday.

In California, the number of coronaviru­s-positive patients hospitaliz­ed Thursday was 2,485. That’s down markedly from this winter’s high of more than 4,600.

This is the first year that California did not experience a devastatin­g surge coinciding with winter, a developmen­t many officials attribute to the widespread administra­tion of vaccines.

“Real-world evidence continues to show that the vaccine prevents severe illness, hospitaliz­ation and death,” the California Department of Public Health said in a statement Thursday. “Public health officials urge California­ns to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as they are eligible.”

According to the department, unvaccinat­ed California­ns were 2.4 times more likely to contract COVID-19 in December than those who had received at least their primary vaccine series. The unvaccinat­ed were also 2.6 times more likely to be hospitaliz­ed and three times more likely to die from the disease.

 ?? GENARO MOLINA/LOS ANGELES TIMES ?? Shoppers make their way along Santee Alley in Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2022.
GENARO MOLINA/LOS ANGELES TIMES Shoppers make their way along Santee Alley in Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2022.
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