SLO County reports 10 more COVID deaths as health experts warn of new Omicron surge

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San Luis Obispo County reported 10 more deaths due to COVID-19 over the last month as California experiences a surge of new cases driven largely by the highly contagious BA.5 Omicron variant.

Despite the deaths, however, compared to the state, SLO County has yet to feel the brunt of the new variant.

“I wish I had a happier analysis of our current COVID state. But BA.5 is yet another COVID curveball to be dealt with, and it’s not great news,” Dr. Bob Wachter, the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Chair of Medicine said in a Sunday Twitter thread.

Every county in the state of California is experiencing high levels of community transmission, which refers to the level and spread of the coronavirus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most counties in California also report “high” community levels — which take into account new hospitalizations and health system stability as well as community spread.

San Luis Obispo is one of a handful of counties currently at a “medium” community level, according to the CDC.

With about 40% of newly sequenced COVID-19 cases in San Luis Obispo County showing BA.5, the effects of the emerging variant have yet to be felt locally, SLO County Public Health Spokesperson Tara Kennon said in an email.

“While we have yet to see the full impact BA.5 will have on our community, Dr. Watcher’s statement ... rings true locally,” Kennon said.

Overall, local data shows 500 new COVID-19 cases were reported in San Luis Obispo County in the past week.

However, the true magnitude of COVID-19 impacts is unknown because positive tests taken at home are not included in county totals.

“Like health officials across the U.S., we believe the actual number is much higher than we are able to track through PCR tests,” Kennon said.

Wachter said in his Twitter thread that local case numbers, which don’t count at-home tests, ought to be multiplied by five to get the rough estimate of the true incidence of COVID-19.

“Specifically to the 5x number, we do not know where that came from or how accurate it is locally,” Kennon said.

Coronavirus in San Luis Obispo County

The latest deaths locally crossed a number of age ranges: 30-49, 50-64, 65-84 and 85+.

These deaths occurred between the end of May through end of June, Kennon said. State and local health officials as well as the coroner have to provide confirmation for all COVID-19 deaths, which creates a lag in reporting.

The 10 deaths reported Wednesday brings the pandemic death total in San Luis Obispo County to 521.

Public Health reported 18 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday, with no patients in the intensive care unit.

Of the 500 new infections reported during the past seven days ending Wednesday, here’s how they break down day by day:

  • Thursday: 88

  • Friday: 68

  • Saturday: 78

  • Sunday: 69

  • Monday: 56

  • Tuesday: 68

  • Wednesday: 73

Despite the 500 new cases, the 14-day case average dropped to 68 — the lowest its been since May 25, according to Public Health data.

A total of 59,009 people have tested positive for COVID since March 2020.

The number of active cases fell from 586 on June 30 to 441 on Wednesday, the lowest its been since May 18.

The agency on July 6 released data showing that unvaccinated people account for about 62% of COVID-19 cases, 72% of hospitalizations and 65% of deaths since June 15, 2021.

Over the past week these are the top coronavirus cases by city: 91 in Paso Robles, 82 in San Luis Obispo and 54 in Atascadero. Notably, an outbreak of 50 new cases were reported at the California Men’s Colony in the past week.

To see the full city-by-city breakdown, visit the Public Health dashboard at www.slocounty.ca.gov/COVID-19/Data.aspx

New Omicron variant expected to dominate SLO County, California

Aside from the 10 new deaths reported in San Luis Obispo County, the numbers reported this week are not far from current trends over the past few weeks.

But that may change as BA.5 spreads throughout SLO County as it has elsewhere in California, health officials said.

“The die is cast now. BA.5 is destined to be our dominant virus,” Wachter said on Twitter.

In the Twitter thread, Wachter breaks down the science behind Omicron BA.5 and explains why it is poised to take over as the main source of new COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks.

Namely, Omicron BA.5 is more infectious than its predecessors, he said.

While previous COVID-19 Omicron infection could provide some protection against future variants, BA.5 is able to outmaneuver immunity conferred through past infection, Wachter said.

The San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department does not track reinfections but has been hearing about them through word of mouth, Kennon said.

“Anecdotally, we are seeing reinfections of people who had COVID-19 as recently as the winter/spring surge,” Kennon said. “In those cases, they may have initially been infected with BA.1 and are now facing one of the newer variants, BA.4 or BA.5.”

The California Department of Public Health told the county it seems that prior infection with BA.2 seems to provide some protection against BA.4 and BA.5, but that BA.1 does not, Kennon said.

Wachter said current trends indicate that vaccination seems to offer little protective against catching the Omicron variant of COVID-19, however, staying up to date on vaccines is “enormously protective” against severe infection and death.

Where to get a COVID-19 test and schedule a vaccine appointment

Free coronavirus testing is available at clinics in San Luis Obispo, Grover Beach and Paso Robles.

To make an appointment, visit slocounty.ca.gov/COVID-19/COVID-19-Testing or call 888-634-1123 to register by phone.

Testing is administered at 801 Grand Ave in San Luis Obispo, 1336 Ramona Ave #A in Grover Beach and 800 Pine Street in Paso Robles.

To make an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine or booster, call 805-781-5500 or the clinic site to schedule an appointment . The county Public Health Department is also administering vaccines and boosters on a walk-in basis at public health clinics in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Grover Beach. To find shots at pharmacies near you, visit Vaccines.gov.

Vaccines are administered at the San Luis Obispo clinic is located at 2191 Johnson Ave., the Grover Beach clinic is located at 286 South 16th St. and the Paso Robles clinic is located at 723 Walnut Drive.

For more information on clinic hours, visit slocounty.ca.gov/COVID-19/Vaccines