As the latest wave of coronavirus wanes, health officials are watching for a new hodgepodge of Delta and Omicron variants.
Dubbed “Deltacron” by some, it’s essentially a mix of the two variants that fueled the waves of COVID-19 last summer and this winter, the California state epidemiologist said. Dr. Erica Pan, during a briefing at the California Medical Assn. this week.
But this coronavirus crossover event is yet to set off alarm bells among health officials. Only a handful of cases have been documented nationwide, including at least one in California, Pan said.
“We are following this closely”
And so far, neither the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the World Health Organization have found it necessary to classify Deltacron as a variant of interest or concern – labels reserved for strains with particular characteristics. troubling ones, such as the ability to spread more easily, cause more severe disease, or better escape the protection afforded by vaccines.
Based on available clinical and epidemiological data, Pan said she is not concerned about Deltacron at this time. But, she added, “it is, for us, a harbinger that the next one will come. We just don’t know when, and we’re watching it closely. »
Deltacron gained more attention following a recent broadcast of “60 Minutes” – which played a tape of CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky asking about it during a staff meeting. A staff member replied that Deltacron was “out there, but we’re still in a handful of cases.”
The latest variant has not been detected in Los Angeles County, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
“We don’t yet have any evidence that this is circulating widely, or even in small numbers, to know what the implications might be,” she said.
As with any new variant or sub-variant, the biggest question will be whether the available COVID-19 vaccines will still provide a high degree of protection. But with such a small number of Deltacrons nationwide, it’s hard to get an answer to that question right now, Ferrer said.
Deltacron versus BA.2
Deltacron is distinct from BA.2, a subline of Omicron that has been gaining attention in recent weeks. Pan said some experts suggest BA.2 should be treated as a separate Omicron variant, “because it’s so different when you look at the genome trees of other Omicron variants.”
Pan said California is seeing an increase in BA.2 cases, and there are higher proportions of this sublineage in sewage samples. But so far officials have not expressed much concern about it.
“There is certainly data that BA.2 is more contagious but not necessarily more severe,” Pan said.
BA.2 is thought to be 30% more infectious than BA.1, the dominant subvariant of Omicron, Ferrer said. So far in LA County, BA.2 has been identified in 231 Omicron cases analyzed.
“While BA.2 is slowly increasing in the county, it still represents a very small proportion of all sequenced cases, representing just under 5% of samples sequenced for the week ending February 19,” Ferrer said.
Trends are looking good
Overall, the outlook remains bright for Los Angeles County as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to decline. LA County’s COVID-19 community level — an indication of pressure on hospitals defined by the CDC — is considered low.
But coronavirus transmission levels remain significant, at 89 cases per week per 100,000 population, according to CDC data released Thursday. That “means there’s just a fair amount of virus still circulating,” Ferrer told a news conference, and is one of the main reasons she strongly recommends universal masking for everything. the world in indoor public places for now.
Before the CDC unveiled its community-level framework in late February, LA County health officials said masks would still be required in indoor public places until coronavirus transmission drops below 50. cases per week per 100,000 population.
The new system sorts counties into a low, medium, or high category based on coronavirus case and hospitalization rates, as well as the share of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Federal health officials do not recommend universal indoor masking for counties in the middle or lower categories, such as LA County.
In light of this change, LA County relaxed its indoor mask requirement last week. However, that’s not to say residents shouldn’t still avail themselves of face coverings given the amount of coronavirus still circulating in the community.
“I’m very clear on what I think is the safest way to get through the next few weeks, and that is to go ahead and keep a mask on,” Ferrer said in a recent interview.
LA County is averaging 39 COVID-19 deaths per day over the past week – up from an Omicron peak of 73 deaths per day in early February, but still higher than pre-Omicron surge levels of around 15 deaths per day. While the reduction in daily deaths is encouraging, “it’s still discouraging that we continue to lose so many residents to COVID-19,” Ferrer said.
Looking for increases
Ferrer said county officials will also monitor whether there is an increase in coronavirus outbreaks in K-12 schools and daycares in the coming weeks. The state is lifting its mask mandate in K-12 indoor daycares and Friday night daycares.
Some have expressed concern in particular about optional masking policies in child care centers for children under 5, who are not eligible for vaccination, and especially in settings involving children under 2, which cannot be masked due to risk of suffocation.
Some studies have suggested that masks have been shown to be beneficial in reducing coronavirus transmission in schools. A study published Wednesday in the journal Pediatrics found that universal masking requirements were associated with a 72% reduction in coronavirus transmission in schools compared to those with optional masking policies.
The state’s lifting of the mask mandate in K-12 indoor facilities and day care centers came amid concerns expressed by some that mask policies could have a negative effect on a learning child. to speak.
In an explainer on its website, the American Academy of Pediatrics said: “While a natural concern, there is no known evidence that the use of face masks interferes with development. of speech and language or social communication”.
“Consider this: Children with low vision develop speech and language skills at the same rate as their peers,” the academy said. “Younger children will use other cues provided to them to understand and learn language. They will observe gestures, hear changes in tone of voice, see eyes conveying emotions and listen to words.
California as a whole has seen a huge improvement in its pandemic measures in recent weeks. The number of new daily coronavirus cases and hospitalized COVID-19 patients has returned to pre-Omicron levels.
But, if past experiences are any indication, officials say the state should still be prepared for potential rebounds in coronavirus activity — especially later in the summer as children return to school. ; and around the fall and winter holiday season, when travel and gatherings are commonplace.
Go ahead vs go ahead
As Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Secretary of Health and Human Services, recently said in a discussion hosted by the Sacramento Press Club: “I know some people wanted to focus on this concept of moving on. thing. I like to think about moving forward.
“We have to move forward and recognize that there is a certain time and place for certain mitigation tools,” he said, and “we’ve gotten smarter and better through the pandemic. on when and how to apply these tools.
Regardless of the rules at the national or local level, individuals will also always have the option of taking additional preventive measures that make sense for them or their families. And, even though the state no longer requires public indoor masking, authorities still strongly recommend the practice.
But the decision to follow this advice is entirely up to Californians. “I know people like to focus on everyone who isn’t listening. But my feeling is that many, many people are and those who are are listening for a reason,” Ghaly said. “They believe they are at risk and they are worried.”
Los Angeles Times