Credit: (source: rush.edu)

Breanna Reeves |

Over the last two and a half years, Americans have experienced a surge of several coronavirus variants including Alpha, Delta Omicron BA.2, Omicron BA.4 and now Omicron BA.5, considered to be one of the most contagious variants so far.

BA.5 now accounts for a majority of COVID-19 cases at 65%, according to the latest data measured from the week of July 3-9. In a White House Press Briefing last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky categorized BA.4 and BA.5 as “more transmissible” and “more immune invading” than previous variants. 

“We know now, from experience that we’ve had over the last couple of months and others in other countries, that [BA.5] doesn’t appear to be associated with greater disease severity or hospitalizations compared to the most recent subvariants,” added Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), during the briefing.

California regions with high community levels

According to the Los Angeles Times, 9 in 10 California’s live in a region with high COVID-19 Community levels, according to CDC data. COVID-19 Community Levels are measured based on new admissions in the past seven days (per 100,000 people), the percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

COVID-19 Community Levels are measured in part  based on the percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in the past seven days. (consumer.healthday.com)

Of the 58 counties in the state, 42 counties have been identified as having high COVID-19 Community Levels, 13 as “medium” and just three counties as low. Los Angeles County is currently experiencing high community levels, prompting the county to rethink reintroducing an indoor mask mandate on July 29 if they remain in the high COVID-19 Community Level for two consecutive weeks.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 1,252 hospitalizations over the last seven days as of July 17.

“With the high rates of transmission fueling the increased risks, sensible safety precautions that can slow down the spread of the virus are warranted and that includes universal indoor masking,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health in a press release

CDC updates

The CDC COVID-19 Community Levels Data Tracker is updated weekly on Thursday. As of July 17, both San Bernardino and Riverside Counties have been identified as having medium COVID-19 Community Levels with the regions reporting case rates below 405 per 100,000 compared to Los Angeles County who is reporting 449.93 per 100,000, according to the tracker.

(source: Breanna Reeves)

Based on community levels, the CDC offers recommendations for individuals and households such as discussing COVID-19 antiviral treatments with health providers for immunocompromised individuals, considering self-testing, wearing masks indoors and staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

Nearly all counties in the state are reporting an increase in cases over the past seven days. While San Bernardino and Riverside Counties don’t appear to be reporting case rates as high as Los Angeles County, Chief of Epidemiology and Program Evaluation/Vital Records at Riverside University Health System – Public Health Wendy Hetherington explained that this could be due to cases that aren’t reported because of home testing.

No data from at-home testing

“So, right now, there’s a lot of at-home testing and we have zero data on at-home testing. Those aren’t reported to public health, and those aren't sent to the lab for variant testing,” Hetherington said.

Hetherington explained that of the data reported from PCR lab testing, the county has observed an increase in the percent of reinfection. According to the county’s latest data for the complete month of June, about 16.1% of the cases were reinfection cases compared to a reinfection rate of 2.1% during the Delta surge.

Chief of Epidemiology and Program Evaluation/Vital Records at Riverside University Health System – Public Health Wendy Hetherington  (researchgate.com)

San Bernardino County

In San Bernardino County, 4.6% of COVID-19 cases have had at least one reinfection of COVID-19 since September 1, 2021, with 52.3% of these reinfections occurring after January 1, 2022 when the Omicron variant became dominant throughout the county, according to San Bernardino County Public Information Officer David Wert.

“We estimate that our number of reinfections is most likely higher than what can be reported due to the use of at-home tests, the results of which are not reported to health agencies,” Wert stated in an email.

Boosters to target BA.4 and BA.5

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommended that the FDA update booster shots to target BA.4 and BA.5 variants.

During the briefing from last week, Dr. Fauci answered questions about waning immunity with regard to the potential availability for fourth boosters.

“But the overall principle is that we know immunity wanes with coronaviruses, whether that is natural infection or vaccination,” Dr. Fauci said. “And so, if you’ve been infected or vaccinated and your time comes for a boost, that’s when you should go and get the boost.” 

The California Department of Public Health continues to monitor hospitalizations and deaths to indicate next steps. As of July 15, the department reported 4,432 hospitalizations and 481 Intensive Care Unit patients statewide. COVID-19 hospitalizations in San Bernardino County are at 249, compared to 190 last Tuesday. Riverside County reported 239 hospitalizations and 17 ICU patients as of July 20.

Congregant settings

“It is relatively good news that our severe outcomes from COVID aren’t as high as they were in previous surges and are relatively low comparatively, but that doesn’t mean it’s less dangerous, especially for those that are at higher risk,” Hetherington stated.

Due to the high transmission rate of the BA.5 variant, San Bernardino County Health Officer Michael A. Sequeira, M.D., recommended that the public remain careful and avoid congregate settings. With the rising temperatures throughout the Inland Empire, residents may be inside more than normal and should consider using masks if crowds are unavoidable.

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.