Ventura County’s COVID-19 levels fall to ‘low’, CDC says

COVID-19 levels in the Ventura County community have dropped from moderate to low in a weekly federal assessment, marking the decline of a winter flood that wasn’t as severe as expected.

The ranking is based on a combination of COVID infection rates, hospital admissions, and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. The county moved up the ranks from high in mid-December and dropped to medium later in the month.

On Thursday, Ventura and Los Angeles counties moved to the lowest of three risk levels.

“That means the impact on our hospitals is diminishing,” said Dr. Robert Levin, the county health officer. “This winter flood was significantly smaller than the two previous winter floods.”

Highly contagious variants accelerated the spread of the virus. But protection from vaccinations and previous COVID infections has helped limit serious illness and hospitalizations, Levin said, warning that another phase of the wave could potentially be yet to come.

The case rate and percentage of people testing positive have fallen in Ventura County, although the numbers don’t include home testing. Hospitals are still busy, but COVID-related admissions have also decreased. Several emergency physicians across the county said they are also seeing fewer people struggling with the flu.

A metric went up. County public health officials announced 13 COVID-19-related deaths in their weekly report Thursday, bringing the number of deaths reported during the month to 41. The increase began in December with 59 reported deaths, compared to five deaths , which were reported in November and 11 in October.

During the pandemic, 1,649 deaths of county residents have been linked to COVID. Deaths are generally counted if a doctor at least lists the virus as a contributing condition, Levin said.

But of January’s deaths, only four occurred this month, with other reports being slowed by delays related to death certificates, tests confirming the presence of the virus, or other factors. Public health officials said 32 deaths occurred in December compared to the 59 reported.

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The increase in deaths is far less than previous winter floods, with a record 385 deaths in January 2021. Levin said the recent spike may be “statistically insignificant”.

“I think it’s a small number phenomenon,” he said. “As the numbers get lower and lower, ever tighter, the numbers take on a less precise meaning.”

The risks are higher for some population groups. Of the 13 deaths reported Thursday, 11 involved people with pre-existing medical conditions, and the same number were 65 and older. Officials said 3 of the 13 had not been vaccinated.

dr George Yu, a Camarillo-based pulmonologist, identified older people as a particularly “vulnerable demographic” for serious disease and said too many of them had not received the bivalent booster shot, which targets Omicron variants.

People of all ages should get another shot if they haven’t had a bivalent booster in the past four months, Yu said, adding that antibodies offer protection from infection for about three months.

dr Raj Bhatia, an Oxnard critical care physician, still wears a mask on planes, in shops and at work and has encouraged other people to do the same.

“COVID has not gone away. COVID is still killing people,” he said. “It’s not over.”

Tom Kisken covers healthcare and other news for the Ventura County Star. You can reach him at [email protected] or 805-437-0255.

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