COVID updates: California surge shows early signs of peak; how to get free test kits

·8 min read

California’s COVID-19 numbers remain extremely high, but there are early signs the omicron wave may have begun to peak for the state as a whole.

The California Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported the daily case rate at 271 per 100,000 residents, down from 275 per 100,000 one day earlier and from an all-time record of 276 per 100,000 two days earlier.

Statewide test positivity has also fallen for the first time in weeks, reported at 21.1% Tuesday after peaking Jan. 10 at 23.1%.

While small, the latest changes represent the first downward trend for each metric since early December, before the very contagious omicron variant gained a foothold in the state.

If the decline continues, the timeline of the surge would be roughly in line with what health officials projected weeks ago based on observations from other countries, including South Africa and the United Kingdom, where omicron was detected earlier.

“All the projections indicate that we will likely reach a peak in January or early February,” Sacramento County health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said last Thursday, referring to projections from state health officials.

Even so, high coronavirus transmission rates in California continue to put serious pressure on schools, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, jails, businesses and more, and will likely continue to do so for at least a few more weeks.

California had 14,639 patients in hospital beds with confirmed COVID-19 on Monday, including 2,311 in intensive care units, up 24% and 27% from one week earlier, respectively.

Hospital leaders say California’s health care systems will likely be overwhelmed through February.

Sacramento County broke its record for COVID-positive hospilizations each day of the three-day weekend, recording 533 patients Saturday, 547 on Sunday and 570 on Monday, state data show. The county’s previous record of 518 patients was set in December 2020.

The omicron surge may not subside at the same rate in all parts of the state.

Positivity remains above 30% in a number of rural Northern California and Central Valley counties, including Sutter, Yuba, Merced and Fresno, which were some of the later counties to detect the omicron variant, as well as in the Southern California counties of Riverside and San Bernardino.

Positivity has dropped below 20% in Los Angeles County and San Francisco, two of the first to confirm the presence of omicron, along with several other Bay Area counties with high vaccination rates such as Marin, San Mateo and Santa Clara.

In the capital region, Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer counties each had positivity rates between 24% and 25%, slightly above the state average.

Though research has indicated vaccination may be less effective in preventing infection from omicron than the previously dominant delta variant, CDPH data show the case rate remains about four times higher among unvaccinated Californians than the fully vaccinated: the state recorded the case rate at 422 per 100,000 in the former vs. 112 per 100,000 in the latter as of early January.

Health officials say vaccines continue to provide strong protection from severe illness for all known COVID-19 variants.

Unvaccinated residents were eight times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 21 times more likely to die of the virus than fully vaccinated people, according to the latest data available from CDPH.

California to date has recorded more than 6.8 million lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases, including more than 750,000 in the past week, and 77,306 virus deaths.

Free at-home COVID tests, by mail and in person

The U.S. Postal Service has launched a program this week that will mail at-home rapid test kits for free to all households that request them.

Orders can be placed now on the USPS website, at special.usps.com/testkits. The site went live one day earlier than announced last week.

Each residential address is limited to one order, and each order includes four rapid antigen COVID-19 tests. The tests will ship later this month.

Separately in the Sacramento region, Yolo County is holding five drive-thru pickup events for at-home tests this week, but exclusively for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past seven days. These tests are intended for infected individuals to take before exiting isolation.

Tests will be given out at Sutter Health Park in West Sacramento (400 Ballpark Drive) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; at the Healthy Davis Together office (1632 Da Vinci Court) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday; at the Bauer Building in Woodland (137 N. Cottonwood Street) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday; and at a rural site in Yolo County, with the time and location yet to be announced.

Masks are required, and those picking up a test must provide either proof of a positive PCR test result or a photo of a positive at-home test result.

COVID caseloads still high at Sacramento K-12 schools

Sacramento-area students are starting a third week on campus amid the omicron surge.

The San Juan Unified School District continues to see high numbers on some campuses. A Tuesday update of the district’s caseload showed 2,481 student infections, an increase of more than 250 from the end of last week. More than 460 staff have been infected.

“This is putting a huge strain on our schools with many teachers and other staff members out sick,” San Juan Unified Superintendent Kent Kern wrote in an update to families. “We have continued our efforts to recruit more guest teachers and we have staff from the district office and other central departments stepping in to substitute when possible.”

The Sacramento City Unified School District said in a Tuesday update it had 396 active cases. The district has seen 1,266 student infections and 107 staff infections in January.

The Twin Rivers Unified School District has had 1,030 confirmed recent cases - those are defined as infections reported within 14 days - including 924 students and 106 staff.

Elk Grove Unified was reporting 268 active cases. The district’s dashboard indicated its infection rate had declined from 167.25 cases per 100,000 on Thursday to 135.91 per 100,000 on Monday.

Last Wednesday, Butte Vista Elementary School in Yuba City and the eight-campus Lake Tahoe Unified School District closed for in-person learning due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Lake Tahoe Unified schools reopened Tuesday, and Butte Vista plans to return to on-campus learning Wednesday.

Latest Sacramento-area numbers

Sacramento County has recorded 227,824 total lab-confirmed cases and 2,594 deaths from COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, according to local health officials.

The county reported nearly 17,000 new cases on Tuesday, in an update with four days of data due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend.

Sacramento County’s daily case rate is now 188 per 100,000 residents, declining nearly 20% from an all-time high of 232 per 100,000 recorded four days earlier, according to the local health office.

According to CDPH, Sacramento County’s latest test positivity rate is 24.2%.

County hospitals were treating 570 patients with confirmed COVID-19 as of Monday, an all-time record and up from 464 one week earlier, according to CDPH. The ICU total has increased to 97 from 89 in the past week.

Placer County has tallied 48,741 cases and 504 virus deaths to date, last updated Friday.

Local health officials last reported the daily case rate at 115 per 100,000 for the week ending Jan. 5.

Placer’s positivity rate is 24.6%, CDPH reported Tuesday.

Placer County hospitals had 214 COVID-positive patients Monday, up from 208 one week earlier. The ICU tally increased to 36 from 29.

Yolo County has confirmed 25,729 infections and 266 deaths from COVID-19, last updated Friday.

The county’s latest reported case rate is 110 per 100,000, for the week ending Jan. 7.

CDPH reports Yolo County’s positivity rate at 8.4%, the lowest among all of the state’s 58 counties.

Yolo County hospitals were treating 19 patients with COVID-19 on Monday, up from seven one week earlier. The ICU total increased to four from one.

El Dorado County has reported 21,025 cumulative cases and 178 deaths from COVID-19, last updated Friday.

El Dorado’s latest reported case rate, for the week ending Jan. 7, was 125 per 100,000.

The county had a positivity rate of 24.6%, CDPH reported Friday.

Hospitals in El Dorado County had 11 COVID-positive patients Monday, down from 16 a week earlier. Two patients were in ICUs, the same as the previous week.

Sutter County has recorded 17,204 cases and 205 deaths, and Yuba County has recorded 13,042 cases with 91 deaths, according to a Thursday update from the bi-county health office.

CDPH reported Yuba County at 165 daily cases per 100,000 and Sutter County at 150 per 100,000 as of Tuesday.

Positivity was 33.4% in Sutter and 33% in Yuba, ranking fifth- and sixth-highest respectively among California’s 58 counties,.

The lone hospital serving Yuba and Sutter counties, Adventist Health and Rideout in Marysville, as of Monday had 48 patients with confirmed COVID-19, the same as one week earlier. Six were in the ICU, down from seven.

The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, Ryan Lillis and Molly Sullivan contributed to this story.

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