California COVID cases, hospitalizations back to pre-delta lows

California’s COVID numbers are back to pre-delta levels, approaching the record lows we saw last summer, and the data indicates cases are still dropping.

“The trajectory is incredibly reassuring” said Bob Wachter, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at UCSF, but he and others warn new variants, and the lifting of most social distancing and masking precautions is a constant threat.

As we enter year three of the pandemic, COVID case rates, the number of patients hospitalized with the virus, and the test positivity rate have all dropped below the level we saw during the most recent low point – during the post-delta, pre- omicron lull. California has not seen COVID numbers this low since the summer of 2021, at the height of the country’s vaccination campaign, before the delta wave set the stage for omicron’s massive spike.

The test positivity rate, the percent of COVID tests that are positive, dropped below 2% this week. A steep decline over the last several weeks brought it down from the height of the omicron surge, when it reached 22% in early January of this year. The state reached positivity rates consistently below 2% for the first time a year ago, and it remained below 2% from early March to early July.

There was also a brief moment in November 2021 on the tail end of the delta surge when the positivity rate dropped just below 2%, but it only lasted one day before skyrocketing with omicron to more than 10 times that.

New case rates are also still dropping, approaching a 7-day average of 3,000 new cases a day. That is still more than triple the record low the state saw during the summer of 2021, but lower than they’ve been since case rates jumped from under 1,000 to over 120,000 from the summer of 2021 to this winter.

Beyond the raw numbers, the increasing availability of effective anti-viral treatments adds to Wachter’s optimism. “Even the same number of cases today as a year ago would have less severe outcomes,” he said, calling the treatment “somewhat of a game-changer.”

Hospitalizations have also dropped to pre-delta levels, with under 3,000 patients for the first time since July 22, 2021. Confirmed and suspected COVID positive patients hospitalized dipped below 1,200 at the lowest point in 2021, and fell below 3,000 for a few months last summer, from late March to late July 2021.

Looking forward, Wachter is curious to see what happens when the numbers stop dropping.

“When they hit a plateau, will they stay there, or do they start moving north, and how much movement upwards is tolerable?” Guardian wonders. “The problem is that’s a judgment call, there’s no bright line.”

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