Do you know someone with Covid right now? You’re not alone.
California is in the midst of its third-largest Covid surge of the pandemic, with roughly 19,000 new cases being reported here each day, according to The New York Times’ tracker. The true number of people falling sick is undoubtedly even higher, since most at-home tests aren’t included in official case counts.
The good news: Most people testing positive aren’t becoming severely ill. In fact, the number of people dying from Covid in California is currently lower than at almost any point in the pandemic. (This trend holds across much of the country, as my colleague Benjamin Mueller recently explained.)
We can thank vaccines and boosters, immunity from prior Covid infections and therapeutics such as Paxlovid – all of which seem to reduce the risk of severe disease.
Now on to the bad news.
Omicron subvariant BA.5 has rapidly become dominant in the United States. And it’s especially good at infecting people and bypassing their immune system’s defenses, even if they’ve been vaccinated, boosted and already had Covid, experts say.
“It’s highly immune-evasive, and that’s why it’s causing trouble,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in San Diego. “And it comes along in California at the same time that we basically have this delusion that the pandemic is over.”
Topol told me he knows many people who’ve recently fallen ill with Covid in San Diego, as do I in Los Angeles, where I live. The CDC considers Covid risk to be high in 38 of California’s 58 counties and recommends indoor masking in those places.
But unlike earlier in the pandemic, officials across California are reluctant to enact new restrictions. Alameda County reinstated an indoor mask mandate last month but rescinded it three weeks later.
Experts predict that without tighter rules or behavioral changes, the hyper-transmissibility of BA.5 will lead to a continued surge in cases in the coming weeks in California. There will also most likely be a modest increase in hospitalizations and deaths, said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, Fielding School of Public Health.
“There is a bit of déjà vu that is occurring as we start having another surge,” he told me. “I think we’ll continue to see increases for a while, but I do not anticipate we’re going to see anywhere near the prior level of infections of the first Omicron wave.”
That’s because people who were infected with earlier Omicron strains, such as BA.1 and BA.2, probably have some protection from BA.5, even if reinfection is possible. In other words, there are fewer Californians susceptible to Covid infection than there were when Omicron first emerged on the scene last year.
So, with all that in mind, how should we be thinking about risk?
Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, explained it this way: It depends on what you’re trying to avoid.
If you’re vaccinated, Covid does not carry the same risks of death and hospitalization that it once did. Keep up-to-date on your boosters to maintain that level of protection.
But even if you have all your shots, each Covid infection still opens the door to the possibility of developing long Covid, a wide range of symptoms that can be debilitating for some people.
Wachter has recently talked about how his wife’s lingering fatigue after a Covid infection intensified his desire to avoid catching the virus. More than one in five adult Covid survivors in the United States may develop long Covid.
So, if you’re trying to avoid infection all together, now is not the time to be in public spaces indoors without a mask, such as at a restaurant, Wachter says.
At UC San Francisco, surgery patients without Covid symptoms are swabbed for the virus as a precaution. About 6.5 percent of those patients are testing positive, which suggests that roughly one in 16 people in the Bay Area who do not seem sick at all are infectious with Covid, Wachter said.
“If 1 in 16 people who feel fine actually has Covid, spend enough time maskless indoors & it’s near-certain that you’ll get it,” Wachter recently wrote on Twitter.
If you read one story, make it this
California plans to quit oil. Resistance is fiercer than you think.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Melissa Schilling, who lives in Santa Cruz. Melissa recommends a state beach on the Monterey Peninsula:
“In my opinion, the very best place to take a long walk, swim, surf, boogie board, tidepool, explore and enjoy the coast is Asilomar. Pacific Grove is lovely, clean and easy to navigate even in peak tourist season. ”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
On a recent afternoon, Erin Alvarez beamed as she watched her daughters, Camila, 8, and Chloe, 4, try their hand at ceramics with a pottery wheel. They made something to take home, and their mother got photographs to remember the moment.
This is the Sawdust Art Festival, a nine-week event in Laguna Beach that typically draws more than 20,000 visitors. Guests can browse the work of dozens of local artisans, or take art education classes.
This year’s festival, the 56th annual, began on June 24 and will end Aug. 28. Read more from The Daily Pilot.