COVID-19 test
A person takes a COVID-19 test. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

With the new, highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants driving up case and hospitalization numbers, San Diego County moved into the “high” COVID level Thursday but is not mandating indoor masking.

Los Angles County also shifted into the high COVID level, and health officials there have warned that a new indoor mask mandate could be just two weeks away.

As of Thursday’s data release, the average daily rate of COVID-positive patients being hospitalized in San Diego county rose to 11.5 per 100,000 residents. That topped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s threshold of 10 for “high” virus activity.

San Diego had been in the medium-risk category since the end of May, but recent spikes in hospitalizations and new cases have led the CDC to increase the risk level for the region.

The county continues to follow the California Department of Public Health‘s SMARTER plan, which recommends vaccination, booster shots, wearing masks indoors, avoiding crowded places and staying home if you get stick.

“San Diegans should take every precaution necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, county deputy public health officer. “Most San Diegans have been vaccinated, but with this virus, and with the prevalence and infectivity of the new variants, a booster is highly recommended, especially for people who are immunocompromised or have other comorbidities.”

On Thursday, the total number of patients in county hospitals with COVID-19 decreased by three to 395, and those in intensive care units decreased by two to 43 — the highest numbers since early March. A total of 6.6% of all hospital beds in the county are occupied by people with COVID-19.

According to the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, lab-confirmed coronavirus cases remain near 10,000 per week, a number that does not include at-home tests. The HHSA also reported it has also seen an increase in re-infections — San Diegans who have tested positive for COVID-19 several times throughout the pandemic.

Prior infection does not necessarily prevent re-infection with some of the newer virus variants, according to national data.

Additionally, hospitalizations for COVID-related illness are also on the rise, up 66% in the last 30 days, the HHSA said last week. New ICU admissions rose 68% during that same time frame.

The county reported 2,191 new infections and seven deaths related to the virus on Thursday, increasing the cumulative totals to 857,182 cases and 5,370 deaths.

Health officials have said that a majority of the deaths occurred in people with at least one underlying health condition, mainly hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

More than 3 million or 89.7% of San Diegans age six months and older are at least partially vaccinated. Nearly 2.65 million or 79.2% are fully vaccinated. A total of 1,396,563 or 57.8% of 2,418,004 eligible San Diegans have received a booster.

City News Service contributed to this article.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.