In the past few weeks, the new Omicron variant has swept across Southern California, with high numbers of new COVID-19 cases continuing to be reported in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties.
Many school districts have been hit hard amid the COVID-19 surge, with the second-largest school district in the nation, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), reporting that 1 in 4 students was absent last week.
However, the rate of students and staff at K–12 schools testing positive for the disease dropped to 11 percent for the week ending on Jan. 15 compared to 15 percent the previous week, said county officials.
Meanwhile, deaths reported in Los Angeles County on Jan. 20 were at their highest since March 10, 2021.
A total of 102 county residents were reported to have died of COVID-19 on Jan. 20, more than twice the number reported the previous week. The report also said that 90 percent of these deaths were people who were infected after Dec. 24, so they were likely infected with the Omicron variant.
Due to the unrelenting spread of the virus, Neeraj Sood, the director of the COVID Initiative at the USC Schaeffer Center, said the public health response to the pandemic should be moving away from minimizing infections.
“Given that new variants continue to result in significant surges—even in a place like L.A. County which had some of the strictest mask mandates and most expansive testing capacity in the country—we need to pivot our pandemic response from minimizing infections to minimizing the harm from infections,” said Sood.
San Diego and Orange counties are also experiencing a significant surge in COVID-19 cases. On Jan. 21, San Diego County officials reported 11,235 new cases, up from 10,990 new cases a week earlier.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Orange County have also been going up. The county currently has the most COVID-19 patients since Feb. 4 last year, with the highest number ever of children being hospitalized due to COVID, officials say.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said this week that 14 children are currently in intensive care units.
The recent surge also triggered a strike on Jan. 20 in Orange County. Dozens of county social services agency workers protested outside of their office and requested to work from home for at least two days a week after a number of employees tested positive in recent weeks.