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Cody: Santa Clara County's huge rise in COVID cases may have peaked, but is still at record levels

Slow decline in rate of new cases points to a 'drawn-out' recovery from omicron surge

Senior Cassandra Taleno-Dee self-administers a COVID-19 test while other students wait in line outside a clinic at Palo Alto High School on Jan. 12, 2021. COVID-19 testing has ramped up across Santa Clara County in response to the omicron variant, which is extremely contagious. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has caused an unprecedented rise in new cases, but more data is suggesting that Santa Clara County has already seen the worst of it and may be on a slow road to recovery.

At a county Health and Hospital Committee meeting on Wednesday, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody told supervisors that recent case rates — along with wastewater data — shows that the surge is finally easing. But she cautioned that the number of people testing positive is still far above anything the county has previously experienced, and that it will be a "drawn-out" recovery.

"We're early in the descent so the overall case rates are still extraordinarily high and the descent is not as rapid as the rise in cases was," Cody said. "The epidemic curve is not going to look like an ice pick."

County data shows a rapid ascent in cases starting at the beginning of the year, hitting a high of 6,406 cases on Jan. 5 — significantly higher than last winter and the delta variant surge combined. Since then, cases have gradually trended downward, with the latest reliable data on Jan. 14 showing 3,705 cases.

During the surge, the county saw a massive increase in COVID-19 testing, exceeding 35,000 tests on most days since Jan. 3. The positivity rate, calculated as a seven-day average, peaked on Jan. 10 at 17.1%, and has declined by a fraction of a percent to 16.7%, county data shows.

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The results are muddied by the rapid rise in at-home COVID-19 testing, which is not reported to the county. Cody said the extreme demand for tests at county-run facilities has eased in recent days, caused in part by the increasing availability of antigen tests that can be taken at home. Earlier this week, the federal government began taking orders for free COVID-19 tests to households across the country.

Though the omicron variant is highly contagious and is more likely to infect vaccinated residents than previous strains, immunization status still plays a major role in who is getting sick. For those who are vaccinated, the latest case rates are 190 out of every 100,000 residents. For the unvaccinated, that rate increases fivefold to 1,103 cases per 100,000 residents.

Cody said COVID-19 patient hospitalizations are on the rise, but not to the level seen in winter 2021 when intensive care units were packed to the brim and even turning ambulances away. She said she does not expect conditions to get that bad again, and that the patients are typically staying in the hospital for shorter periods and are requiring less respiratory support such as ventilators. COVID-19 deaths are still relatively flat and are expected to remain low.

"I think our robust vaccination and booster rates have prevented many deaths, and so that is quite reassuring," Cody said.

'I think our robust vaccination and booster rates have prevented many deaths, and so that is quite reassuring.'

-Dr. Sara Cody, health officer, Santa Clara County

Due to the high transmission rate of the omicron variant, health officials are changing their tune on masks. Though cloth masks were deemed sufficient throughout the course of the pandemic, Cody said she is no longer recommending them as a safeguard against the virus. Instead, she said residents should be wearing more protective N95, KN95 or KF94 masks, all of which have more effective filtration.

The guidance is more of a recommendation meant to educate the public, and is not an enforceable requirement. Though more protective and more expensive masks are now being recommended, Cody said mask choice should be based on how likely residents are going to be to actually wear them.

"The mask that you can wear comfortably without touching it is the best mask to wear, all things being equal," Cody said. "If you are tempted to take your mask off, you are not getting the protection. Compliance needs to be part of the equation."

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Kevin Forestieri is an assistant editor with the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. He joined the Voice in 2014 and has reported on schools, housing, crime and health. Read more >>

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Cody: Santa Clara County's huge rise in COVID cases may have peaked, but is still at record levels

Slow decline in rate of new cases points to a 'drawn-out' recovery from omicron surge

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 11:23 am

The omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has caused an unprecedented rise in new cases, but more data is suggesting that Santa Clara County has already seen the worst of it and may be on a slow road to recovery.

At a county Health and Hospital Committee meeting on Wednesday, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody told supervisors that recent case rates — along with wastewater data — shows that the surge is finally easing. But she cautioned that the number of people testing positive is still far above anything the county has previously experienced, and that it will be a "drawn-out" recovery.

"We're early in the descent so the overall case rates are still extraordinarily high and the descent is not as rapid as the rise in cases was," Cody said. "The epidemic curve is not going to look like an ice pick."

County data shows a rapid ascent in cases starting at the beginning of the year, hitting a high of 6,406 cases on Jan. 5 — significantly higher than last winter and the delta variant surge combined. Since then, cases have gradually trended downward, with the latest reliable data on Jan. 14 showing 3,705 cases.

During the surge, the county saw a massive increase in COVID-19 testing, exceeding 35,000 tests on most days since Jan. 3. The positivity rate, calculated as a seven-day average, peaked on Jan. 10 at 17.1%, and has declined by a fraction of a percent to 16.7%, county data shows.

The results are muddied by the rapid rise in at-home COVID-19 testing, which is not reported to the county. Cody said the extreme demand for tests at county-run facilities has eased in recent days, caused in part by the increasing availability of antigen tests that can be taken at home. Earlier this week, the federal government began taking orders for free COVID-19 tests to households across the country.

Though the omicron variant is highly contagious and is more likely to infect vaccinated residents than previous strains, immunization status still plays a major role in who is getting sick. For those who are vaccinated, the latest case rates are 190 out of every 100,000 residents. For the unvaccinated, that rate increases fivefold to 1,103 cases per 100,000 residents.

Cody said COVID-19 patient hospitalizations are on the rise, but not to the level seen in winter 2021 when intensive care units were packed to the brim and even turning ambulances away. She said she does not expect conditions to get that bad again, and that the patients are typically staying in the hospital for shorter periods and are requiring less respiratory support such as ventilators. COVID-19 deaths are still relatively flat and are expected to remain low.

"I think our robust vaccination and booster rates have prevented many deaths, and so that is quite reassuring," Cody said.

Due to the high transmission rate of the omicron variant, health officials are changing their tune on masks. Though cloth masks were deemed sufficient throughout the course of the pandemic, Cody said she is no longer recommending them as a safeguard against the virus. Instead, she said residents should be wearing more protective N95, KN95 or KF94 masks, all of which have more effective filtration.

The guidance is more of a recommendation meant to educate the public, and is not an enforceable requirement. Though more protective and more expensive masks are now being recommended, Cody said mask choice should be based on how likely residents are going to be to actually wear them.

"The mask that you can wear comfortably without touching it is the best mask to wear, all things being equal," Cody said. "If you are tempted to take your mask off, you are not getting the protection. Compliance needs to be part of the equation."

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2022 at 9:19 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 22, 2022 at 9:19 am

The numbers may be high, but they are not serious cases. They are not causing long drawn out illnesses. They are not all needing hospitalization. They are causing more of an irritant cold type of symptoms and the majority of cases are recovering with chicken soup and time spent at home.

The headline is still trying to traumatize. The good news is that we are on the backside of the pandemic. Other countries are reducing their precautionary measures. They are understanding that Covid will remain with a few serious cases but the majority will be mild. They are learning to live with it. They are no longer living in fear.

Living in fear, finger pointing, blame and isolation are causing more anxiety than Covid. We must rise above the drama and start working out how to resume our way of life. Yes, resume our way of living with Covid as we do with cancer, with heart disease, and the common cold. Start actively thinking how to remain healthy and how to cut down our risks to any health issue. Lose weight, exercise, eat healthy, keep hygiene a priority, but we must not be made to fear living.


John B. Sails
Registered user
Midtown
on Jan 23, 2022 at 7:06 am
John B. Sails, Midtown
Registered user
on Jan 23, 2022 at 7:06 am

Thanks for good advice, Bystander.


PatrickBurt
Registered user
Community Center
on Jan 23, 2022 at 11:11 am
PatrickBurt, Community Center
Registered user
on Jan 23, 2022 at 11:11 am

While medical experts agree that Omicron has less severe symptoms than previous variants, they do not consider it to be "mild" and it is much more infectious, Web Link Many of us have seen more friends and family infected during this wave than during all of the rest of the pandemic combined.
Local hospitalizations are remaining lower than areas like Los Angeles, Web Link in large part due to our higher vaccination and booster rates, along with better adherence to safety practices.
We also don't yet know how Omicron affects long haul cases nor do we yet fully understand the long-term health impacts of long haul COVID. Web Link
The good news is that it appears that we have begun the downslope of the Omicron wave, Web Link and we will likely see an easing of rules and best practice guidance in the next few weeks. In the meantime, let's be safe out there", especially in indoor group spaces.


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