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California’s COVID battle hits another promising milestone

San Francisco Chronicle 3/24/2023 Aidin Vaziri

California has hit another major milestone in its fight against COVID-19, with all of the state’s residents now living in areas with a “low” community transmission level for the first time since last fall. This puts California’s 58 counties in line with approximately 93% of others across the U.S. that meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s metrics for the same category, as the country continues to make progress against the virus.

The U.S. reported 133,521 new COVID-19 cases last week, marking a 44% decline from a month ago, and the lowest weekly figure since July 2021, just before the arrival of the delta variant spurred a surge. Hospitalizations have also reached their lowest rate since last summer. The seven-day average for new admissions was down 29% — 2,477 a day versus 3,468 last month. 

However, confirmed COVID deaths nationwide rose slightly last week, claiming the lives of about 294 people every day compared to 331 per day a month ago. 

The steady downward march of COVID locally mirrors national trends. California reported 2,083 new daily cases, or about 5 per 100,000 residents, compared to 3,721 cases per day, or 7.3 per 100,000, a month ago. The state’s seven-day rolling coronavirus test positivity rate has fallen to 5% from 6.4% over the same period, while the daily average of COVID patients in California hospitals has dropped by 34% to 1,823 from 2,763. However, COVID deaths have risen to 20 per day on average, up from 15 in February.  

The CDC estimates that the XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant makes up approximately 90.2% of circulating lineages for the second consecutive week. Its offspring XBB.1.5.1 strain, which the agency started tracking as a variant of concern earlier this month, was sequenced in 2.4% of cases. The newly disaggregated XBB.1.9.1 is on the rise nationwide at 2.5%. 

More COVID-19 news this week

Study finds Paxlovid cuts the risk of long COVID

People who take Paxlovid may lower their risk for long COVID, according to a study published Thursday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers found that people who took the antiviral treatment from Pfizer within five days of testing positive for the coronavirus saw a 26% lower risk of having symptoms of long COVID compared with those who did not take Paxlovid. They also discovered the drug leads to a 47% lower risk of death.

Improving long COVID trends stall

After showing promising gains over the previous six months, the proportion of respondents to the Census Bureau’s monthly “Household Pulse Survey” who were previously infected with COVID-19 and currently experiencing long COVID in March held at 10.9%, marking the first time since the survey started that the rate did not decline.  

Long COVID rate higher for women than men

An estimated 38% of women have experienced long COVID statewide in California compared with 21% of men, according to the annual status report from the Center for the Advancement of Women. Long COVID rates are especially high for certain demographics, including Black women (41.2%), Latinas (42.7%), and gay/lesbian women (50.7%). COVID-19 has played a part in decreasing the life expectancy of women from 81.4 years in 2019 to 79.9 years in 2020, and 79.3 years in 2021.

First test kits to detect symptoms of long COVID arrive

Quest Diagnostics has introduced two post-COVID-19 blood and urine panels to detect symptoms of long COVID, which are available for consumers to purchase without a doctor’s prescription.

White House to disband COVID response team in May

The White House plans to disband its COVID response team in May, with some staff members having already departed as the public health emergency designation is due to expire, the Washington Post reported.   

COVID death rates vary widely between states

A study published in the Lancet, based on social and economic factors, finds that standardized cumulative COVID-19 death rates varied widely across the U.S. from Jan 1, 2020, to July 31, 2022, with the highest rates in Arizona (581 deaths per 100,000 people) and Washington, D.C. (526 per 100,000). By contrast, the lowest rates were in Hawaii (147 per 100,000) and New Hampshire (215 per 100,000). California ranked among the worst states with 418 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Biden signs bill ordering the declassification of COVID origins information

President Biden on Monday signed legislation ordering the declassification of information related to the origin of COVID-19, a mystery that has divided the eight U.S. government agencies investigating the source. The bill orders the information to be made public within 90 days.

Court blocks COVID-19 vaccine mandate for U.S. government workers

A federal appeals court blocked President Biden’s order for federal employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.  The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans rejected arguments that Biden, as the nation’s chief executive, has the same authority as the CEO of a private corporation to require that employees be vaccinated. 

FDA may authorize additional COVID-19 booster shots for some

Federal health regulators are closing in on a decision on whether to authorize a second round of the omicron-targeted booster shots for the elderly and other people at high-risk of severe COVID-19, according to the Wall Street Journal. Food and Drug Administration officials could make the decision within a few weeks, according to their sources.

Moderna vaccine to cost $130 per dose on private market

Moderna expects to price its COVID-19 vaccine at around $130 per dose in the U.S. going forward as purchases move to the private sector from the government. Company CEO Stephane Bancel on Wednesday defended the plan to more than quadruple the price, but he also told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that the drugmaker will work to ensure patients continue paying nothing at drugstores or clinics. 

XBB.1.16 offshoot causing surge in India

The omicron XBB.1.16 subvariant of COVID-19 has been found in 76 samples across several states in India, contributing to a 281% increase in cases and 17% increase in deaths over the past 14 days, albeit from a relatively low base.

Americans moving less since pandemic

Americans are taking about 600 fewer steps per day since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a new study in JAMA Network Open using data from the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program.

Stanford study finds infection damages immune response

A new study by Stanford researchers shows the magnitude and quality of a key immune cell’s response to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine were considerably lower in people with prior SARS-CoV-2 infection.

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