(The Center Square) - For the first time in months, California's 7-day COVID-19 test positivity rate reached 10.8 percent over the last week, indicating increased spread of the virus as state officials report a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The last time California's 7-day test positivity rate reached double digits was on August 20, when the rate stood at 10 percent, according to data from the California Department of Public Health. This week's test positivity rate is higher than the same time last year, when the state's 7-day positivity rate December 3, 2021, was 2.2 percent.
As case rates rose during the winter surge at the end of December 2021 and start of January 2022, the 7-day positivity rate spiked to 22.3 percent in the second week of January, according to data from the Department of Public Health.
While the current positivity rate is still significantly lower than the positivity rate during the peak of last year's winter surge, health officials are warning that the state is already seeing an uptick in hospitalizations. As of Friday, 3,793 were hospitalized for COVID-19 in California, according to CDPH. During the last winter surge in January, the number of patients hospitalized with the virus in a single day peaked at nearly 15,500 patients.
"COVID-19 cases are impacting California earlier than usual this year and the state is beginning to see an increase in hospitalizations," the California Department of Public Health told The Center Square in an email, adding that the department is urging Californians to "protect themselves and their families against COVID and other winter viruses" by getting the flu shot and COVID boosters, testing for COVID-19 when sick, wearing a mask in indoor public spaces and washing hands frequently.
In mid-December 2021, state health officials moved to reinstate an indoor mask mandate after the state saw a 47 percent increase in COVID-19 cases. At this point in time, state officials have not announced that the state could return to an indoor mask mandate, but according to the state's COVID-19 response plan (the SMARTER plan), "there may be conditions that warrant temporary, targeted and risk-based masking requirements."
Several California counties are currently in the Center for Disease Control's "medium" tier of community spread, which is determined by a combination of case rates, COVID-19 hospitalizations and the percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID patients. The counties identified at the "medium" community level as of Friday include Los Angeles, Orange, Fresno, Monterey, Sacramento, and several others in the Central Valley and Bay Area.
With Los Angeles moving into the "medium" community level this week, Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced during a press conference Thursday that the county could move to reinstate an indoor mask mandate if the region surpasses the threshold for the "high" community level. The current case rate in Los Angeles is 185 cases per 100,000, and the rate of COVID hospitalizations reached 12 per 100,000 this week, according to Ferrer.
Ferrer said the county could be in the "high" community level as soon as next week based on current trends, but as noted by the Los Angeles Times, it remains uncertain if that threshold will be met. If LA County does hit the hospitalization and case rate benchmarks to instate a mask order, officials could implement the rule a few weeks later, the Times reported.
Over the summer, LA County was poised to reinstate an indoor mask requirement after seeing a rise in cases, but ended up holding off on the mask order after seeing an improvement in COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations.
Meanwhile, state health officials are also watching a rise of RSV and flu activity in California this winter, urging Californians to take prevention measures like masking in crowded indoor spaces, getting the flu shot and staying away from individuals who are sick.