COVID-19 omicron BA.5 subvariant fuels latest increase in Monterey County case rate

SALINAS — Monterey County case and test-positivity rates continue to increase as omicron subvariants spread among the population, keeping the county and a large portion of the state’s community level at high.

On Tuesday, the California Department of Public Health reported that Monterey County’s COVID-19 seven-day average case rate was 27.9 cases per 100,000, up from 26.4 cases per 100,000 last week. The county’s test positivity rate on Tuesday came in at 13.3%, up from 11.9% a week ago. There were 35 people hospitalized in Monterey County with COVID-19 on Tuesday, down from 47 people reported last week.

On June 9, the state reported Monterey County’s case rate was 14.9 per 100,000, its test-positivity rate was 9.9%, and there were 18 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

“I would say that our transmission levels and data have plateaued right now,” said Kristy Michie, assistant director of Monterey County public health at Wednesday’s media briefing. “We’re still at a place where community transmission is fairly high, so it’s important that we all continue to take steps to prevent COVID-19 transmissions in our communities like getting vaccinated if you’re eligible.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the omicron variant of COVID-19 makes up about 95% of infections now in the region that includes California, with the BA.5 subvariant representing about 52% of infections.

Michie said that Monterey County’s genome sequencing data is consistent with what the CDC is showing for the region concerning the BA.5 variant.

“What we know about the BA.5 variant so far is that it seems to be more transmissible than other subvariants of COVID-19,” said Michie. “We’ve seen that with every sequential subvariant of omicron, they’ve been more contagious.”

But Michie said the more disturbing aspect of BA.5 is that health officials are seeing more repeat infections.

“People who have had COVID in the past are getting it again and we’re also seeing an increase in post-vaccination cases,” said Michie. “The BA.5 subvariant may be able to escape our immune system better than some of the other subvariants we’ve seen so far.”

Michie stressed that if an individual is eligible for a booster they should get one, in addition to wearing a mask in indoor public settings to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Also, if a person is sick they should stay home even if testing negative for COVID-19 because there are other respiratory viruses circulating in the community now.

Unfortunately what has been seen with COVID-19 is that a person’s immunity to it wanes over time whether it’s from getting the virus or being vaccinated, Michie said. To keep immunity levels to COVID-19 high and protect oneself against hospitalization and severe illness, she said it is important to boost the immunity of each individual. The CDC and FDA have set up a schedule for when a person is eligible for boosters based on data about waning immunity.

“If you’re eligible for a booster, it’s really important that you do get one now so that you are best protected against COVID-19 as you can be,” said Michie.

The CDC reports that of those individuals 5 years of age and older who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations in Monterey County, 87.9% have received at least one dose and 78.9% are fully vaccinated. The agency also reports that in Monterey County, 53.3% of eligible individuals 12 years of age and older are fully vaccinated and have a first booster dose.

The CDC and FDA recently recommended vaccinations for children between 6 months of age and 5 years old. Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System had an initial 600 doses available last week. The county’s clinic services reported 400 doses, and its public health department had 1,500 doses for those babies that are now eligible for vaccination.

Maia Carroll, Monterey County spokeswoman, said that vaccine supplies are plentiful and vaccine service providers can order on an as-needed basis.

Monterey County’s community COVID-19 level remains at high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A community level, ranked as low, medium or high, is based on hospital beds being used by patients with COVID-19, new hospital admissions among people with COVID-19, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in the area. The calculations used by the CDC are from a week to nearly two weeks prior.

Based on Monterey County’s current level, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public and on public transportation, staying up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines, getting tested if symptoms arise, and if an individual is at high risk for severe illness, consider taking additional precautions.

“Consider testing before and after you travel or gather just to make sure you don’t inadvertently pass COVID-19 on to someone else,” said Michie.

According to the California Department of Public Health, from June 6 to June 12, unvaccinated people were 5.4 times more likely to get COVID-19 than people who received their booster dose.

Go to mcvaccinate.com to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccination appointment and visit montereycountyvaccines.com/testing-sites to find a testing site.

Contributed by local news sources

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